Monday, Feb. 23, 2009 | 2 a.m.
A coalition of downtown’s biggest businesses, alarmed at the Culinary Union’s attempts to clamp down on the city’s redevelopment agency, has decided to fight back.
The Downtown Las Vegas Alliance is claiming the ballot initiative to mandate voter approval for future redevelopment agency projects would hurt downtown businesses and make it tougher for businesses to relocate there.
The group is aiming to assist the city in its possible effort to fight the ballot measure in court.
The alliance has retained the powerful law and lobbying firm Kummer Kaempfer and two of its top local attorneys, Mark Ferrario and Mark Fiorentino.
The business coalition soon may also establish its own political action committee to aid the city — which is unable to promote its views using taxpayer dollars — by developing a public relations campaign.
“We’re looking very closely at the initiative and will challenge it on many levels,” said Rich Worthington, president of the Molasky Group and head of the alliance.
“Look, downtown is not the first stop for a lot of these developers, it’s the last stop,” Worthington said. “We need to make sure that the city still has its basket of tricks to land redevelopment projects downtown.”
The alliance was formed a few years back at the behest of Mayor Oscar Goodman. Though this was long before the city’s scrap with the Culinary, it could be seen as a prescient move on Goodman’s part.
Since that time, the group has been trying to find ways to promote development downtown and reverse the long-held idea that it’s not a friendly place to live or work. Last year, the coalition formally registered as a nonprofit organization.
According to Worthington, the alliance has 35 members, including downtown condominium developer Sam Cherry and executives of casinos such as the Four Queens, Fitzgeralds and El Cortez.
The seven-member executive committee includes representatives of the downtown Arts District, the World Market Center and Forest City Enterprises, the Cleveland-based developer working with the city on the new city hall project and the connected land swap to build a gaming resort on Union Park.
The Culinary has sponsored another ballot measure designed to stop the city hall project by requiring voter approval of “lease-purchase” construction projects. Critics have called the project unneeded and too expensive.
Though the alliance is opposing both ballot measures, two board members said many members of the group truly don’t care whether a new city hall is built. They just want to make sure future downtown development efforts don’t become, for all intents and purposes in this economic climate, impossible.
“It isn’t about supporting or not supporting whether a new city hall gets built,” said Rita Brandin, senior vice president and development director for Newland Communities, which is managing and designing Union Park for the city. “It isn’t negative toward the Culinary.”
Brandin said the ballot initiative regarding the city’s redevelopment efforts, called the Las Vegas Redevelopment Reform Referendum, is the biggest cause of concern for the business community downtown.
The measure would repeal the existing Redevelopment Area plan, and would mandate public votes on redevelopment projects. The Las Vegas Redevelopment Agency was created in 1986, and is designed to attract businesses to downtown.
“It’s because of the (Redevelopment Agency’s) efforts that we’ve seen the development that we have,” Brandin said.
According to Jeff Victor, an alliance board member and president of the Fremont Street Experience, the casinos on Fremont have a lot at stake — especially as they’re bordered by redevelopment projects in every direction, including Union Park, the planned mob museum, the planned revival of the closed Lady Luck and the Fremont East District.
“All of these initiatives are not only great for the Fremont Street Experience, but for the city as a whole,” Victor said.
According to a Feb. 2 memo from Worthington to members of the alliance, the group is asking each member to pony up $5,000 — $1,500 for nonprofit organizations — to pay for the alliance’s newly retained attorneys.
The circumstances could hardly be more dire, Worthington wrote.
“Needless to say, we all recognize the precarious economic condition of each of your individual endeavors,” he wrote. “However, if these measures were to pass, the ramifications would be devastating to all of us.”