Las Vegas Sun

September 16, 2014

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Joe Downtown: Legislative committee to take up bill seen as vital to downtown

Fear is growing among downtown supporters that if a bill to extend the life of Las Vegas’ redevelopment agency fails in the Legislature, downtown’s ongoing revival could face a serious setback.

Assembly Bill 50, sponsored by freshman Assemblywoman Heidi Swank and introduced on the city's behalf, would extend Las Vegas’ redevelopment agency by 15 years.

That’s important, says a downtown business group, because the agency currently uses funds to make grants to small businesses that otherwise would unavailable.

An Assembly Government Affairs subcommittee is going to talk about the bill at 10 a.m. Friday.

The bill does more that extend the agency’s life. It also would allow the city to make loans, as well as grants, to small businesses. The draft bill says the loans could be used to help businesses purchase land and make visual improvements.

Finally, the bill allows the city to create a tourism improvement district within a redevelopment zone. Tourism districts allow businesses to collect sales taxes for a certain period of time to help offset costs, so long as the new business proves it has improved tourism in the area.

Terry Murphy, president of the Downtown Las Vegas Alliance, which is made up of local business operators, said one provision already has been deleted from a draft bill that would have allowed the city to keep collecting a special room tax.

If this bill doesn’t pass, she added, it could hurt the city’s ability to refinance existing bonds to take advantage of lower interest rates because the agency would expire in 2031, leaving 18 years for any kind of refinancing. Murphy says that’s not enough because municipal bonds typically are financed for 30 years.

By allowing loans, Murphy also said, the city could require a successful business to repay the money, “so the city would have additional funds for other businesses.”

The final piece of the legislation allows the creation of a tourism improvement district. Murphy used a hypothetical example to show how that could help redevelopment efforts.

“It would mean a business such as Zappos could apply for a tourism improvement district on a parcel of land if they could show how it would generate additional tourism downtown,” she said.

Those wanting to testify at Friday's hearing from Las Vegas via teleconferencing can go to Room 4100 in the Grant Sawyer State Building, 555 E. Washington Ave.

Joe Schoenmann doesn’t just cover downtown, he lives and works there. Schoenmann is Greenspun Media Group’s embedded downtown journalist, working from an office in the Emergency Arts building.

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