Not even the economic devastation of a pandemic could deter the Henderson City Council from embracing a partnership with the Vegas Golden Knights to build a hockey arena in Green Valley.
“We can say ‘yes, let’s postpone this until the COVID 19 thing is over with,’” Councilman Dan Shaw said. “ I don’t have a crystal ball and I can’t tell you when that’s going to happen. But what I can tell you is we need to get people back to work.”
About 40 residents voiced opposition to the $80 million project and asked the council to allow citizens to vote on the measure or postpone it until the economic turmoil expected from COVID-19 has been quantified.
A last-ditch effort to derail the vote fizzled when Judge Rob Bare denied an application for a temporary restraining order to postpone the measure and allow voters to decide.
About two dozen supporters registered comments, including Nevada State College, the owners of The District, a nearby shopping center, and the Henderson Chamber of Commerce, which says it held an emergency meeting Monday night to formulate a position.
An economic analysis produced by Applied Analysis predicted construction of the project would generate 1,000 jobs. But such projections often fall short and Henderson officials say they’ve never attempted to verify them after the fact.
In 2016, Applied Analysis told state lawmakers contemplating a $750 million public contribution that the construction of Allegiant Stadium would generate 11,000 direct construction jobs. However, as of the end of March 2020, construction of the stadium has generated just 2,057 full-time-equivalent jobs.
“I’ve opposed this from day one,” said Councilman Dan Stewart, the only member who voted against the minor league hockey facility. “I believe it’s the right partner. Wrong location and wrong time.”
Stewart said the COVID-19 pandemic has “introduced an entirely new variable,” and noted 80 percent of the city’s budget is dedicated to salaries. He warned the interest payments on the arena bonds divert funds from paying employees.
“This is not most circumstances. At this point it’s all about cash flow. The city is not the federal government,” he said, noting it can’t print money.
John Marz noted that during the recession, he and Mayor Debra March “cut hundreds of millions of dollars and yet our citizens didn’t feel a tremendous impact because of the way we managed that cut.”
“There is only one thing to fear and that’s fear itself,” Marz said, quoting Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Assistant City Manager Robert Herr said city staff are intent on addressing residents’ concerns such as parking. He noted the current Pavilion has 600 spaces on site and the city “can easily double that.”
With seating capacity for more than 6,000 and 1,200 spaces, each car would have to carry five occupants.
The city’s agreement with the Vegas Golden Knights would allow city events 37 days a year.
In addition to American Hockey League games, the Knights would hold game viewing parties at the facility.
Discovery Nevada, the market research firm that says 71 percent of Henderson residents it surveyed support the project, declined to provide the Current a breakdown by zip code of support for the project. The city says the information is not subject to the open records law because the study was commissioned by Applied Analysis, the company contracted by the city to provide the economic analysis. Discovery Nevada is a subsidiary of Applied Analysis.
At the same meeting, the city learned it is projected to be $17 million in the hole because of lost revenue due to the pandemic. The budget calls for no cost of living adjustments, no new hires other than public safety positions, and restrictions on travel, training and tuition reimbursements.