Let’s admit it, Las Vegans: Stadium ideas are beginning to bore us.
They come, like celebrity deaths, in threes, but they’re much less conclusive. Billion-dollar sports-venue proposals never die; they just retool and relocate. Once you’ve got a nice flying-saucer ballpark rendering for, say, Symphony Park, you can always move it to Hacienda and Russell with an easy click-and-drag. And if you happen to be a major casino corporation that controls the dusty lots between Koval Lane and Bally’s/Paris/Imperial Palace, you see no harm in trotting out the same idea again and again until even the boredom-proof Legislature nods off. And for some reason, we are forever confronted with Texans (Paul Tanner in the 1990s, Chris Milam and Craig Cavileer today) who want to teach us how to dream big.
Well, here in Vegas we love to dream. But a major sports complex isn’t just another casino or lifestyle center; it’s a civic asset. And even when most of the funding (theoretically) is private, projects on this scale almost always wind up depending on some form of public buy-in. All three of the stadium-development teams that sent lobbyists to the Legislature this spring billed their projects as privately funded—and yet, there they were, at the Legislature, making the (eminently reasonable) case that their viability depended on special tax districts. Alas, they had failed utterly to educate the public about the ways in which tax districts work, leaving the politicians free to play the no-public-money-for-private-projects-in-these-trying-times card. No stadiums for you, Las Vegas.
In truth, the Battle of Carson City was lost before it began. The multiplicity of proposals had left Las Vegans blasé and cynical. The public, through its representatives, was expected to help bring the projects to life—but which one? Did anyone ask us? Did anyone consult Southern Nevadans about which locations make sense? Why were concerns about transportation flicked aside with an Iowa-cornfield faith that was completely out of place in a city that’s been suffering growing pains for 30 years? How do you get 40,000 people to UNLV with no light-rail and no mention of so much as a park-and-ride? And why do so many of the Vegas stadium-and-arena proposals try to get everything built—Big-time football palace! World-class ballpark! NBA glitterdome!—when we’ve repeatedly shown ourselves unable to get anything built?
We considered these questions and came up with this radical four-step plan, complete with these handy illustrations below:
Illustrations by Travis Jackson
The city should take charge of the process—no more ordering off the random menu of developers’ dreams. To get things started, the city—after a limited period of public input—needs to say what it wants and where it wants it. And it should ask for one thing at a time: Let’s go out on a limb and recommend a Triple-A baseball stadium in Symphony Park.
TNext, the city should make the sale to the public on why a special tax district is the price of having a new stadium. It should explain that the tax district will—for a limited time—allow the stadium to keep tax revenue from goods it sells in order to pay off construction debt. It should point out that this money isn’t being ripped from the pockets of defenseless taxpayers—it’s money that, without the stadium, would never be generated in the first place.
After the public education campaign, the city should get the district approved before there’s even a project on the drawing board. That way, it’s not some “greedy developer” trying to put one over on the town; it’s just a town passing its hopes along to its townspeople. At that point, if the people turn it down, fine. It means that, as a community, we simply don’t want a stadium.
Once it’s clear where we’re going to build and what incentives—the tax district and nothing more—we’re willing to give, we can entertain all the renderings and architectural daydreams the world can throw at us. We’ll know what we want and what we’re willing to do to get it. And once we get one small victory, we can use the same process for the next dream on our list: NBA anyone?