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Alan Snel

Long, winding road leads to latest stadium debate

23 September 2014

LAS VEGAS -- Most Las Vegans know the Findlay family name. You might be driving a car bought at one of the many Findlay car dealerships in Southern Nevada.

The Cordish family? Well, Las Vegans hardly know CEO David Cordish or son Blake Cordish, vice president of the company.

But if you’re wondering how The Cordish Company, a Baltimore-based development company, arrived in the middle of the Great Las Vegas Soccer Stadium Debate, you might trace it back to a conversation former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman had with former Louisville, Ky., Mayor Jerry Abramson about 15 years ago.

Goodman was reaching out for advice on private developers who could put together an arena and entertainment district when Abramson — now Kentucky’s lieutenant governor — recommended family-owned Cordish. The company is known for redeveloping Baltimore’s Inner Harbor as a hot entertainment and restaurant district.

“He told me, ‘They’re tough businessmen, but the product they build is second to none,’” Goodman, 75, said Monday, sitting in his downtown Oscar’s restaurant in the Plaza.

Goodman heeded Abramson’s advice.

In November 2009, the city cut a deal with Cordish to redevelop the old City Hall into an arena.

But then Goodman recalled someone wanted a confidential meeting to discuss that old city government building. Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh intended to move his online retail business into it.

“I met with Blake (Cordish) and said, ‘I need you to move.’ They said they’re not moving. Then they said, ‘It will cost you.’”

So, the city cut another deal with Cordish. Goodman said the city paid Cordish $2 million in the middle of Goodman’s final term to leave the City Hall site to look at developing an arena in Symphony Park on the west side of the railroad tracks.

“It was a better site,” said Goodman, who believes a major-league team would make Las Vegas a major-league city.

Blake Cordish is in Las Vegas this week for more talk as the stadium debate is nearing its end after many years and a few deadline extensions. Goodman said Cordish along with Chief Operating Officer Zed Smith are in Las Vegas to work on the latest stadium deal.

The Cordish-Findlay team, a 50-50 partnership, has agreed to a proposed deal with the city for a $200 million, 24,000-seat soccer stadium that the private developers hope will lure a Major League Soccer expansion team to the valley.

Las Vegas is competing against at least five other cities for the final expansion team.

But the Cordish-Findlay deal has hit a political wall. Las Vegas Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian last week joined Councilmen Stavros Anthony, Bob Beers and Bob Coffin in opposing the proposed stadium financing deal, saying that it requires too much public money.

The proposed upfront construction costs call for Cordish-Findlay to pay $44.25 million, while the city puts up $155.75 million, mostly in bonds of $114.75 million.

Then, Cordish-Findlay would repay the city over 30 years with $3.5 million in annual rent and nonsoccer payments of either $500,000 or $1.5 million annually. The city would use $3 million in hotel room fees earmarked for parks.

Beers, who represents the Summerlin area, said an e-mail was sent to the seven City Council members saying that Blake Cordish would like a word with each of them this week. Here’s why: A vote on a nonbinding stadium deal looms Oct. 1.

If the council rejects the nonbinding deal in nine days, it’s endgame for the stadium. But if the tentative deal is ratified, then the stadium proposal goes before the council for a final vote in December.

With Cordish-Findlay facing a potential deal killer, the partnership floated a new plan calling for the private partners to assume responsibility for the loan to build the stadium, Beers said.

It’s a move to remove some of the financial risk to the city, he said.

But it’s also a tactical political move, he said. If the deal, as it stands, wins approval Oct. 1, it would require a supermajority 5-2 vote in December because it includes the city issuing bonds.

If the private developers, and not the city, borrow the money, Cordish-Findlay would require only a conventional 4-3 council vote to win in December.

Oscar Goodman said he likes the idea of the private partnership taking over the loans for this reason.

“Anything that deflects the nonsense is a good thing,” he said,

Blake Cordish couldn’t be reached for comment Monday.
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