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With Plaza implosion out, Goodman seeking ‘gateway’ to Symphony Park


Tiffany Brown / Las Vegas Sun file

The Plaza hotel-casino is seen in 2009 looking from Symphony Park. Mayor Oscar Goodman said Monday that the area near the Plaza would be key to providing access between Symphony Park and the area near the Fremont Street Experience.

Updated Monday, Sept. 13, 2010 | 5:27 p.m.

Click to enlarge photo

The future home of the Symphony Park area is shown on the left and the Plaza hotel-casino tower is on the right near the Fremont Street Experience. Main Street is seen on the far right.

Click to enlarge photo

Oscar Goodman

Implode the Plaza?

In 2005, Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman told a local business publication that was his wish for the landmark downtown hotel and casino that serves as the west anchor of the Fremont Street Experience.

"If I had my druthers, I'd still say the same thing," Goodman told reporters at a hasily called press conference Monday afternoon at his office at city hall.

Goodman made that remark following the revelation Monday morning that the Plaza will temporarily shut down its hotel in November for a major renovation, which will put some 400 employees out of work.

The Plaza's footprint is "the gateway, really, between the Fremont Street Experience and what we're trying to do over at Symphony Park," Goodman told reporters.

The mayor said Symphony Park, along with the Ruvo Brain Institute and the Smith Center for the Performing Arts, is going to be "the epicenter of all that's great in this valley culturally, intellectually, medically ... I thought it was critical to have the movement going in order to get the critical mass coming over the railroad tracks."

"The railroad tracks are like our river here," he said. "You have to get over it. And the only way to get over from Fremont Street would be to go through the Plaza."

The Fremont Street Experience gets about 18 million visitors a year, he said. Once Symphony Park is developed with condos and apartments, restaurants, bookstores and music shops, "it would be wonderful if we could move those folks from one side of the railroad tracks over to the other," Goodman said.

Goodman said he realized he wasn't going to get his wish.

The Plaza's owners said they are planning to renovate the 1,037 guest rooms and hallways.

"We'll work with them and try to get access — maybe go under it, making sort of a tunnel from the Fremont Street Experience going under the Plaza," Goodman said.

The mayor said representatives of the Plaza advised him last week about closing the guest rooms.

"I'm the kind of guy who makes lemonade out of lemons," he said. "You could never feel good about a situation where some 400-plus employees are going to be out of a job. But they told me that, in fact, was going to be the case."

The good news is the Plaza is going to renovate, he said, which is what other downtown hotels have done.

For example, the Golden Nugget put in a new 500-room tower in its $500 million renovation, he said. The El Cortez and the Cabana Suites are redeveloping.

"The folks over at the Gold Spike are actually building, virtually, a new hotel," Goodman said.

He said the Lady Luck is in the process of cleaning out its rooms in a $100 million-plus remodeling effort.

"I think, in the long run, we're going to be all right," he said. "But, as I said, there's no way in the world you could feel good about people losing jobs, particularly in our economy as it stands today."

Goodman said it's difficult to compare gaming revenue for the Strip to downtown casinos because downtown casinos don't have baccarat.

"I think we're in pretty good shape," he said. "...The occupancy is good. The average daily rate is down. That's the bad news."

He said he had a conversation with downtown developers who were optimistic because they think in 2012 and 2013 the convention and meeting business will be on the upswing.

But he admitted that efforts to redevelop downtown have been tough because of the economy.

"It's like Sisyphus," he said, referring to the Greek mythological story of the king who was punished by being forced to eternally roll a boulder up a hill.

"That's what it's been like trying to redevelop the downtown here," he said. "I've been doing it now for 11 1/2 years and it's like a boulder, pushing that boulder up a hill. And as soon as I stop pushing it, it comes back and cracks my skull. So I have no choice. I have to keep on pushing up."

Goodman said he didn't like the idea of the employees at the Plaza losing their jobs.

However, he said the hotel owners do plan to send some of their employees to work at their sister hotel properties. Those are the Las Vegas Club Hotel & Casino and the Western Hotel & Casino.

"And the expectation is that the employees will be rehired once they reopen," Goodman said.

Also Monday, Goodman said he was having second thoughts about entering into an exclusive two-year negotiating agreement last November with the Cordish Company of Baltimore.

Last November, Cordish entered an two-year negotiating agreement with the city to develop a sports arena, a casino-hotel and an entertainment district on city-owned property that includes the existing city hall and parking garage.

"It's their move," Goodman said. "As far as I'm concerned, I wish I had not entered into such a binding exclusive because we're getting inquiries from a lot of people with whom I can't speak about building an arena down here, about building a stadium down here.

"But I'm bound not to engage in those conversations and it's breaking my little heart," Goodman said.

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