Douglas County commissioners learn price tag is $80 million for Stateline events center
July 20, 2018
Correction: Commissioner John Engels is against using public money to finance the center. He said he has no objection to the casinos using their own money to build it.
The price tag for an indoor events center proposed in Stateline came a little more into focus on Thursday.
The $80 million estimate came from the Tahoe Douglas Visitors Authority is an increase over the original estimate, attorney Lew Feldman told commissioners.
Commissioner Barry Penzel remarked that it was the first time he'd heard an estimate for the cost of the project.
The fiscal benefits and impacts of the events center were presented to commissioners by consultant David Zehnder of Economic & Planning Systems.
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He said the center would host 91 events in its first year, ramping up to 130 events after five years.
"The events center is strategically placed to be an anchor for the Tahoe South core," he said.
The events center is designed to bring visitors during the fall and spring shoulder seasons when numbers drop.
"We're not competing head on with other summer time events that occur at the hotels," he said. "The real thrust of this project is to fill in the shoulder seasons."
He said he hoped people would see the project as a benefit to all Douglas residents.
"Contribution for the Lake Area does lift all boats in the county," he said.
Feldman brought commissioners up to speed on the project.
"We hope the environmental review will be in a form to be submitted by end of month," he said. The Authority hopes to have a hearing before the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency by the end of the year.
He said so far the key issues for the agency are the scenic impact and traffic.
He said work on the neighboring hotels helped with the visual effects of the building.
"We're feeling pretty good about what seems to me to be a pretty common sense issue," he said.
He pointed out that because the center is supposed to be doing most of its business in the off-season, traffic shouldn't be an issue.
"We're really busy in July and August, and during two weeks in December," he said. "The events center is designed to bring in people for mid-week times and shoulder seasons when traffic isn't an issue, but revenue is an issue."
The goal of the events center is to make Tahoe a convention destination instead of a gaming destination.
"The bitter pill to swallow was that our gaming economy is no longer a gaming economy," Feldman said. "Gaming here is an amenity. Main attraction is recreation and entertainment."
That was borne out by the consultant's study, which showed gaming revenue as essentially flat over the past eight years.
"What we found in our interviews is that the casinos are really redirecting much of their investment and innovation on the Las Vegas area," Zehnder said. "They are not focusing on this area as a place of growth for them."
Commissioner Dave Nelson observed the economic benefit and the costs of the project were essentially the same.
The proposed center is funded from a redevelopment agency in Stateline that would raise money from increased tax assessment gathered on improvements within its boundaries.
Estimates of the district's 30-year revenue generation are $115.7 million.
With the results of the election, the question is whether the center will have the votes on the county commission to continue.
Newly elected commissioner John Engels has come out dead-set against the center, calling it a gift to the Tahoe casinos.
However, Republican commissioner nominee Wes Rice is an enthusiastic supporter of the proposal.
Engels vote on the project won't be able to repeal the redevelopment agency, but could be an obstacle for financing the project. Generally, bond consultants prefer that boards approve bonds without a second reading in order to meet financing deadlines. That requires four votes on the board.