Sports Arena Developer Okayed

The REI Neon Group has been chosen to build a $9.5 billion sports arena/gambling/mixed use/retail complex near Charleston Blvd and Main Street.  REI Neon is based out of Michigan.  REI has the rights to purchase 85 acres downtown.  Still to be worked out are tax credits, incentives and a timeline for development and completion.

The first phase of the eventual $9.5 billion plan will be a $500 million arena and surrounding retail space in what is a corner of the Arts District. Later phases would include casinos and thousands of hotel rooms and condos.

The local Arts District is up in arms about this.  The Arts District, with the success of First Friday, has turned an older, some would say seedier section of town, into a thriving arts community complete with galleries, artists and businesses like Nevada Radiator and the Swim-In-Pool Pool Supplies.

Councilman Gary Reese sees the Arena as a way to connect the Strip, Union Park and Downtown into a large entertaiment area.

George Postolos, former president and CEO of the NBA's Houston Rockets, has joined REI's team. REI was to  meet with NBA executives on Friday about their plans but there has been no word on the meeting in the wake of Friday's breaking story about the NBA Ref who was caught betting and possibly throwing games.   Postolos was a special assistant to David Stern in the late 1990s.  Stern is said to be lukewarm (before Friday's breaking news) on the idea of a NBA team in Las Vegas.

The City Council is set to vote on the preliminary agreement with REI on August 1st.  That will be followed by a 60 day negoitating period for the final agreement.  REI will be required to put down a $1 million deposit once the final agreement is reached.

Some sticklers that will crop up: 

The 85 acres in question are owned by different people and different families.  Each owner will have to agree to sell.  REI says that they agreements with all the property owners and that the sale should close escrow by September.  Steve Wynn didn't have this easy of a time when he bought out the home-owners on the old Desert Inn Golf Course.  Will REI?

On Wednesday, July 25th the State Board will hear a challenge to the City Council's decision last month to re-zone the area for gaming.  Local attorney Chuck Gardner, who is representing the plantiff, a Las Vegas resident, says that REI and the city fell far short when it came to presenting "clear and convincing" justification for expanding the gaming district. (LV Review Journal).

The Culinary Union has also challenged the project.

AEG, another big arena developer (ie the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles) is still moving ahead with their plans for an arena outside of the city limits.  Can Las Vegas support two large arenas and the smaller Sam Boyd Stadium?  Are there that many sports fans in Las Vegas?  Are there that many tourists interested in watching live sports in Las Vegas?

The Arts District:

This stadium will have the most impact on the burgeoning Arts District.  When Cindy Funkhouser and Whirlygig began the idea of First Friday years ago, the area was downtrodden and seedy.  Many of the long-time businesses had closed or abandoned the area for the suburbs.  Since then the area has become a hotbed of galleries, artists lofts, the Holsum Design Center (in the former Holsum Bakery building.  Talk about great re-adaptive use), mid-century furniture (Modify), antique stores and more.  Along Main Street are some of the oldest businesses in town such as the Swim-In Pool and Nevada Radiator.  The entire concept of an Arts District with its monthly street fair atmosphere will be deeply impacted by this development and no one should underestimate them.

From an email circulating regarding the State Board's meeting on Wednesday: 

Subject: WEDNESDAY, JULY 25th, 1 pm. Save the ARTS DISTRICT & our neighborhoods!

Please attend the Review Panel hearing of the Gaming Policy Committee. This hearing will determine if gaming can be expanded into the 73 acre parcel between Oakey, Charleston, Main Street and UPRR tracks.

We believe this naked expansion of gaming and the already-decided stadium project will not only destroy (wipe out) the ARTS DISTRICT but also the surrounding neighborhoods. This includes John S. Park, Glen Heather, Scotch 80s, McNeil Estates and others, since traffic in the area will be GRIDLOCKED. (If these neighborhoods, some of which are well organized get involved....)

Although there will be no opportunity to testify at the hearing, we need to let this Panel know that gaming is not the great panacea, especially when neighborhoods are this severely impacted. Please, please, please carpool and bring others with you and attend this WEDNESDAY's hearing. 555 E. Washington 2nd floor. State of Nevada Building.

This one will be worth watching.