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December 18, 2014

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Emotions run high at public meeting over sports arena

No decision yet on Silver State proposal for $400 million 22,000-seat arena

Proposed arena site

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Emotions fumed and facts emerged with little clarity at the Winchester Town Advisory Board meeting Monday in the first public discussion of a proposed sports arena on the north end of the Strip.

Chris Milam, CEO of International Development Management, presented the 200,000 square foot Silver State Arena to a crowd checkered with yellow “No Silver State Arena” shirts, skeptical of compatibility and traffic problems, and equally vocal supporters, who pushed the project by pointing to the potential for economic growth and employment.

The board ultimately continued the item, granting no recommendation for either approval or denial. Milam and Sue Lowden, the property owner and former U.S. Senate candidate, can elect to move forward to the Clark County commissioners meeting on Aug. 4 or to appear before the Winchester board again on Aug. 11 in search of a recommendation.

Milam’s presentation featured a 22,000 capacity arena, comparing it to the Olympic stadium in Beijing. The facility would cost $400 million, and Milam said his company would spend $100 million in local labor and another $100 million on local materials.

It would be built on the site of the now deceased Wet ‘n Wild on Las Vegas Boulevard South and Paradise Road, slightly south of Sahara Avenue. Primary access to the arena would be on Las Vegas Boulevard South and Paradise Road.

He pledged the project could break ground in the fourth quarter of 2010 with the goal of opening in October 2012. Milam repeated that, as previously reported, negotiations were under way to bring an NBA team to Las Vegas and added the potential for an NHL team as well. He said UNLV had also expressed interest in having its men’s basketball team play there.

According to Milam’s figures, the arena’s construction would employ more than 4,000 workers. Union leaders present at the meeting said up to 40 percent of the members of their organizations were unemployed. Several citizens spoke passionately about the need for those jobs in the wake of the recent recession.

“We need to reinvent Las Vegas,” said Robert Conway, a member of the ironworkers union, echoing earlier comments that the opposition was delaying the inevitable. Milan estimated the arena, which would also host rodeos, concerts and other entertainment, could generate $500 million in new economy activity and $25 million in new taxes.

As for financing, Milam said his company would pay 85 percent of the cost. The other 15 percent would be funneled through a redevelopment tax district, which would cap its revenue at $125 million. He stressed that no new taxes would be introduced to pay for the arena.

However, many members of the audience, mostly residents of the neighboring Turnberry Towers, expressed concerns about the area’s ability to handle the traffic flux and other possible damages to their quality of life—noise, pollution, etc.

The county’s staff recommended the board deny the application because of a possible vehicular “grid lock”, given its understanding of access to the arena, and similar concerns about compatibility. Those findings contradicted Milam’s assertion that traffic studies had proved the site could weather the traffic.

One county commissioner also voiced her doubts about the funding and location.

“We will not support public tax dollars funding this arena or any other arena,” said Chris Giunchigliani, commissioner for the area, punching one hole in Milam’s plan. “I think it’s an awesome project, but it’s the wrong site. And if you want to build something, build it with your own money.”

Opponents frequently referenced the Fontainebleau, the bankrupt and unfinished casino resort bordering Turnberry Towers, a project that also promised economic improvements, but floundered as the economy stalled.

Others wondered if an NBA team was really on the verge of coming to Las Vegas, as Milam has been unable to publicly disclose which franchise would come to the Strip.

The board’s honored Milam’s request for a continuation, leaving the project in legal limbo. Milam stated his willingness to work with the surrounding residents to address the traffic issues and other challenges, and some opponents returned the possibility of compromise.

The future of a sports arena in Las Vegas, however, remains uncertain. The county commissioners meeting will be held at 9 a.m. on Aug. 4.

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