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Battle Brews Over Strip Casino Parking

19 March 2004

Las Vegas Sun

by Jeff Simpson

LAS VEGAS -- A battle brewing between Strip kingpins Steve Wynn and Sheldon Adelson revolves around parking spaces.

In Business Las Vegas, a sister newspaper to the Las Vegas Sun, reported today that the two titans are battling over the number of parking spaces Adelson intends to add when he builds his next resort, the so-called "Venetian Phase II."

Wynn charges that Adelson's executives submitted bogus numbers to Clark County planning officials in an attempt to avoid building sufficient parking. He also charges that Venetian bosses have encouraged employees to park at neighboring resorts rather than take up scarce parking spots at the Venice-themed hotel.

"We caught 'em," Wynn said recently when asked why his company's executives had become involved in The Venetian's planning process. "They were trying to submit a plan with gross underparking, and we caught them."

Wynn said The Venetian was twisting its interpretation of the county's rules to minimize its parking obligations and that a parking shortage at Adelson's property already exists.

"Their employees and customers are parking across the street (at Treasure Island)," Wynn said. "Now they want to make the situation even worse."

County planning rules require Strip developers to build sufficient parking for properties' guests and workers.

Clark County Assistant Planning Manager Chuck Pulsipher said that parking space requirements are based on a resort's hotel-room count as well as on the amount of space dedicated to retail, convention, public, and back-of-house uses.

For example, the county's formula requires one parking space for each of a property's first 500 hotel rooms. The next 500 rooms require only 250 spaces, and only one space for each four rooms is required for all rooms beyond the first thousand.

Retail, convention and restaurant spaces all require more parking than non-public uses.

The Venetian's initial plan included a large area that was incorrectly excluded from parking calculations, Pulsipher said, significantly reducing its required parking.

"That is fairly normal," Pulsipher said of the discrepancy. "There's some room for confusion and interpretation. In the end, they give us figures and we trust them."

The county planners accepted The Venetian's numbers until Wynn Resorts executives interceded and pointed out the errors, county officals said.

"We've gone back with them (The Venetian bosses) and worked out how they (calculate the parking requirements)," Pulsipher said.

Greg Borgel, The Venetian's land-use consultant -- and Wynn's as well -- said the property and the county were both to blame for the misinterpretation.

"The Venetian people calculated the number the way they thought they should," Borgel explained. "Staff accepted those calculations, but (after Wynn's people complained) they were unable to explain the numbers."

Borgel referred additional questions about the parking plans to The Venetian's management, but property executives declined comment.

County officials said The Venetian's request to have 39 percent fewer parking spaces than planning codes require is the biggest deviation from parking requirements any megaresort has ever requested.

Borgel acknowledged that The Venetian was asking for a larger-than-normal deviation from the county's parking standard, but noted that megaresorts have received parking deviations of as much as 30 percent.

Wynn sees The Venetian's deviation request as a ploy to avoid the expense of building enough parking, a move he said disturbed the mutual respect Strip resort owners have traditionally enjoyed.

"No one's ever done what Sheldon's done," Wynn said. "No one's ever tried to abuse the system like they've done.

Wynn Resorts executives will stay on top of the situation and make sure The Venetian's plan conforms to county rules, Wynn said.

"They're going to be respectful of the laws," Wynn promised.

The Venetian's plans ask the county for permission to build as many as 3,060 new suites in addition to the 4,049 the property already has.

When The Venetian first submitted its plans for the expansion, it figured its parking requirement at 14,287 spaces and offered to provide only 8,860; 1,218 of the provided spots are off site.

The difference later widened after planners discovered the discrepancies.

Plans for Wynn's project call for 2,694 rooms, suites and villas.

"In total we expect there will be approximately 4,050 parking spaces available to guests, visitors and employees of Wynn Las Vegas," noted Wynn Resorts' annual report filed this week with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

MGM MIRAGE spokesman Alan Feldman said the company's Treasure Island property has felt no adverse effect from any parking shortage at The Venetian.

But one Treasure Island insider said that property security guards have, on a case by case basis, stopped in-uniform employees from other properties, including The Venetian, and advised them to park elsewhere.

Harrah's Las Vegas spokeswoman Madeleine Weekley said Harrah's Las Vegas hasn't had a problem with employees from The Venetian parking at its garage.

The property has 2,720 on-site parking spaces for its 2,526 rooms.

Treasure Island, across the Strip from The Venetian, has 4,000 on-site parking spaces for its 2,900 rooms.

Feldman said the company's not aware of an organized effort by The Venetian to have its employees park at MGM MIRAGE properties.

Harrah's has posted a security guard at its self-park garage entrance for the past couple of years because of its limited parking availability, Weekley said. The Harrah's garage guard makes sure prospective parkers are either hotel guests or have Harrah's Total Rewards slot cards, she said.

County policies requiring plenty of parking make the Strip a haven for drivers, Feldman said.

"The self-parking situation in Las Vegas is very unique," Feldman said. "I have to believe there's a certain amount of (parking) cross-utilization up and down the Strip, a product of convenience and our unique supply of free parking."

Borgel said he expected The Venetian's phase II plan to return to the planning agenda in April, and said he believes The Venetian and county planners will be able to work out an agreeable compromise on the property's parking requirement.

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