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Tony Cook
 

In parking fight with Wynn, this round goes to Adelson

20 December 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Sheldon Adelson won his latest bout with rival casino mogul Steve Wynn on Wednesday, a contest in which the billionaire Strip neighbors clashed over the seemingly dull issue of parking spaces.

Adelson, chairman of Las Vegas Sands Corp., won permission from local government leaders to provide fewer parking spots for his new convention center than next-door casinoman Wynn wanted.

The Clark County Commission granted Adelson a waiver reducing the number of parking spaces to 1,865, less than 60 percent of the number originally proposed.

Wynn's concern is that conventioneers will poach parking spaces from his casino and others. He has long argued that Adelson has not provided enough parking for his properties.

Sound mundane? Not in Las Vegas, especially when it pits the world's sixth richest man (Adelson) against rich guy No. 264 on the Forbes list of world wealth.

Adelson's moves leading up to the county's decision:

He won approval in July 2006 for a new 1.5 million-square-foot convention center behind his company's Sands Expo & Convention Center, county records show. The plans called for 3,280 parking spots in a garage Sands would include in the center.

County engineers had safety concerns, however, unrelated to the parking. They worried about the thousands of conventioneers who would stroll to other resorts by crossing the busy intersection of Sands Avenue and Koval Lane. So commissioners required Adelson to build an elaborate pedestrian bridge that would go around a parking garage owned by Wynn, shoot up Sands Avenue, cross Koval, duck under the Monorail and intersect another pedestrian bridge before finally linking up with Adelson's other properties.

The catch: The pedestrian bridge Adelson's structure would intersect with belongs to Wynn.

In a brief moment of partnership, the competitors signed an agreement in March allowing construction of the bridge. But in November, Adelson changed his plans.

He sought to expand the convention center by 187,000 square feet while also slashing the number of parking spaces.

Adelson's representatives, including former U.S. senator for Nevada Richard Bryan, argued that the proposed convention center would be "in conjunction" with the company's existing Venetian and Palazzo resorts. As such, the Adelson team argued, the center should be subjected to a parking standard of one space per 1,000 square feet of floor space.

The plan approved by the county 17 months earlier looked on the new convention center as a stand-alone structure, requiring two spaces per 1,000 square feet. That interpretation was supported by the presence of Wynn's parking structure. It stands between the convention center and Adelson's resorts - suggesting the two sites are not conjoining.

But county staff agreed with Adelson's new interpretation and recommended reducing the parking requirement.

Enter Wynn. His attorney sent a letter to the district attorney's office, arguing that the new center would indeed stand alone. The district attorney agreed.

So Adelson's company changed its request. Instead of quibbling over "in conjunction" and "stand-alone," the Sands would simply request a waiver of the parking requirement.

That waiver was the issue before commissioners Wednesday.

Wynn's attorney, Todd Bice, argued that Adelson had misled Wynn and commissioners originally by assuring them that he would provide more parking. Bice said Adelson used those initial plans to get Wynn to sign off on the pedestrian bridge, then changed the rules.

"We negotiated ... because they told us they were going to build a different convention center with twice as much parking," Bice said. "They should be asked to live with what they represented to us."

Bryan countered that no other convention centers were held to the standard of two parking spots per 1,000 square feet. The exception is the Las Vegas Convention Center, the county's only stand-alone convention facility. It long ago received a waiver allowing it to provide 1.1 parking spots per 1,000 square feet.

The board sided with Adelson. On a 5-1 vote, it agreed to reduce the parking ratio to 1.1 spaces per 1,000 square feet. Commissioner Tom Collins voted no. Chairman Rory Reid abstained because he works at the same law firm as Bryan.

Though the matter is settled for now, it might not be the last matchup between Adelson and Wynn over the issue. Bice suggested that Wynn might take the fight to another venue down the street, a place called district court.