Las Vegas Sun

October 22, 2019

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City, county officials briefed on private monorail plan

and Steve Sebelius

A "major player" that wants to build a $150 million private monorail on the Strip gave a private briefing to two county commissioners and a city councilman this week at McCarran International Airport.

The elected officials, who all sit on the Regional Transportation Commission, were invited by Aviation Director Bob Broadbent, who has been tapped by the county to coordinate development of a fixed guideway system financed by Strip hotel-casinos.

The presentation by the Carter & Burgess engineering firm followed a similar pitch made to Hilton Hotels Corp., which is heading up a small group of hotel-casinos eager to see a monorail built. The group has asked Broadbent to assist their private transit development.

"We haven't had any formal presentation made by anybody else," said Broadbent, who is heading a team of county and airport planners working with the Hilton group. "I asked these people to come in and do it because they had no luck talking to the RTC membership."

The same group made a pitch a few days earlier to the Hilton, Broadbent said, to build a $150 million system from the MGM Grand to the Las Vegas Hilton several miles to the north.

In a memo to the County Commission sent today, Broadbent said, "Obviously they are a major player."

County Commission Chairwoman Yvonne Atkinson Gates said she went because she was eager to find out what county staff was working on, and didn't know other elected officials would be present.

"I had no problem with the presentation," Gates said. "It gave me information I needed to know as to how we can build a turnkey system, and have a private-public partnership."

Las Vegas City Councilman Matthew Callister said he assumed the airport meeting was to discuss the monorail issue in general, but when he arrived about six private companies were on hand to gauge their "interest level" in various monorail plans.

"This was real preliminary," said Callister, who was unable to recall which companies were at the meeting.

The consortium, which included airport financier Smith Barney and Bombardier, maker of the MGM-Bally monorail transit cars, was an information briefing on how a "turnkey system" would operate, Broadbent said.

"What I'm trying to do is get everybody knowledgeable on what a turnkey proposal is," Broadbent said.

A turnkey system is one built by a private group such as a hotel-casino group contracting with a consortium to design, build, operate and maintain a fixed rail system, Broadbent said.

In a memo sent to other county commissioners today, Broadbent said, "This was strictly a briefing for us to better understand what we might be looking at. There is no commitment to this consortium for further work."

Gates said she was not sold on the consortium, and after seeing the presentation realized that the RTC could provide the same service. But she also stressed that any firm hired for a project that involved county resources would have to go through a competitive bidding procedure.

"If the Hilton or anyone else wants to build a system using their own financing, then I have no problem with whoever they select," Gates said. "But if there's a proposal asking the commission for something in the sense of bonding or using county finances, then that's a decision the County Commission has to make as to who we're going to work with."

Gates did say Broadbent should be an integral part of the planning since any monorail system should eventually connect to the airport, but that the RTC should continue to be the lead planning agency.

Broadbent said many other consortiums are interested in building a rail system, and other hotel-casinos are interested in "what we're going to do."

Callister said he told the gathering that Las Vegas wants a monorail system that extends into the downtown area, leaving people off at the Downtown Transportation Center.

"If what we get at the end of the day is a true system ... then I'm interested," Callister said. "If it doesn't do that (go downtown), I'm not interested."

Mayor Jan Laverty Jones said Wednesday she was also invited to the meeting, but couldn't attend.

Commissioner Bruce Woodbury also attended, but could not be reached for comment.

Others present at the meeting included County Manager Pat Shalmy, Assistant Manager Jim Ley and city Public Works Director Richard Goecke, who was appointed Wednesday to be the city's "point man" on the monorail issue.

Marcus Faust, the Washington lobbyist for the county and the airport, was also at Monday's meeting.