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Where’s Vegas’ sports arena?

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The proposed Silver State Arena may never happen.

There is no intelligent reason for the County Commission to oppose the construction of the Silver State Arena and the financing arrangement its developers have proposed. That, sadly, leaves us with the stupid ones.

The Silver State Arena is the $750 million multipurpose venue proposed for the site of the late, great Wet N Wild, immediately south of the Sahara. The genie’s-lamp-looking thing even fits in with its neighbors, but better still is that it would create 4,100 new construction jobs as well as, according to the developers, an estimated 7,300 permanent positions after it opens. It’s also, right now, the only hope this city has of landing an NBA team.

You might have heard we’re mired in a horrible slump, so the promise for thousands of well-paying union jobs ought to be irresistible. If President Obama were pimping this deal, they’d be using the magic words “shovel ready.”

So what’s the holdup? Well, Silver State’s financing depends upon a modest amount of help from the county. I say “modest” because most arenas around the nation require enormous amounts of public financing, whereas this seeks only that a tax assessment already in place be used for its intended purpose.

Several years ago, the county established a “redevelopment district” that spanned from the Strip and Sahara Avenue to Maryland Parkway. They collected some money that was supposed to be used for loans to help redevelop the blighted region. They never actually found anything worth supporting, it seems, and the county last year decided that they’d just keep the dough, call off the district and spend it in whatever other ways they needed.

Now comes the arena’s chief opponent, Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, to zing developer Christopher Milam last month with: “If you want to build something, build it with your own money.” Like, say, the money the landowners have been giving the guvmint for all these years?

What’s more, Milam has shown that they actually only need the promise of the money, not the actual money itself. It’ll make the numbers pencil out for construction, he says, but once the place operates, the newly generated property taxes will more than cover it. That means—oh boy!—that Giunchigliani could spend more on other stuff!

Alas, Giunchigliani’s other big argument is that an arena in that location will be a traffic nightmare for the poor residents of nearby Turnberry Towers. Problem is, that land has always had zoning for massive, traffic-creating projects. If someone wanted to build a massive casino there with a big theater that held major concerts, for instance, the county would have to allow it. I feel for Turnberry residents, but they already got sold out by their own developer, who opted to partner in building the never-to-open Fontainebleau and replace their Strip vistas with the back ass of a never-to-be-used parking structure.

Silver State, however, could revive Turnberry values by turning the complex from a sad sack of blocked views in a desperate part of the city into a mecca for wealthy pro athletes who play for the Vegas team, among others. The traffic could singlehandedly revive the fortunes of the bankrupt Las Vegas Monorail, too, since tourists would actually find a nighttime use for it.

If the arguments against this thing are so weak, then what gives?

Could it be the pettiest form of politics? The land is owned by the family of one Sue Lowden, who just lost a brutal race for the GOP nomination to take on Harry Reid. How could a commission comprised of all Democrats—including Reid’s own son—possibly give Lowden the satisfaction of doing good for the economy?

Here’s an idea: Sen. Reid and every labor leader in Nevada should endorse the arena. They’d look gracious for allying with a woman who opposed them, and Reid could take credit for creating those jobs just in time for the election. They’d also trap Lowden, sort of, into appearing supportive of Reid because she’d have to express gratitude.

What a triumph it would be for Reid. And, also by the way, what an economic boost it could provide for all those families. That’s worth a little extra traffic, no?

Follow Steve on Twitter at TheStripPodcast or head to VegasHappensHere.com for his blog and weekly celeb-interview podcast, The Strip. E-mail him at SteveFriess@aol.com.
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Steve Friess

Steve Friess is a freelance journalist based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His work has appeared in the New York Times, ...

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