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November 18, 2017

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Lee’s Runway Liquor must start construction by Dec. 30 or risk default


Steve Marcus

A US Airways jet is seen during a rainstorm at McCarran International Airport on Monday, Oct. 3, 2011.

Developers have yet to break ground on McCarran International Airport’s first liquor store, more than a year after winning approval from county commissioners.

In August 2010, Lee’s Runway Liquor won the right to build a liquor store next to the escalators leading from the D gates to the baggage-claim area. Two other companies also bid.

Now, the company has until Dec. 30 to start construction, airport officials say, or the airport will consider it to be “in default.” At that point, if construction doesn’t start within 30 days the commission will be asked to terminate the liquor store agreement.

Lee’s Discount Liquors operates liquor stores throughout the county. Executives with knowledge of the company’s plans could not be reached for comment.

When the project was proposed in February 2010, Commissioner Steve Sisolak cautioned liquor sales at the airport might lead to drunken tourists making the short drive to their hotels.

But financial concerns seemed to have the momentum. As a so-called enterprise fund department, the airport is kept afloat financially by fees and rent. The airport needed revenue from the liquor store to help weather bad economic times, officials argued.

In July, commissioners approved giving Lee’s Runway Liquor the nod over two other bidders — Liquor Library LLC, with manager/member Richard Worthington; and Binna LLC, with managing member Amer Ramo.

Part of the allure of the contract was that it offered a chance to operate the only liquor store of its kind in a travel destination that likes to think it offers tourists a one-of-a-kind experience. Beyond duty-free stores that sell liquor, county officials believe no U.S. airport leases space in or near a baggage claim area to a liquor outlet.

Worthington, who is also president of the Molasky Group of Cos., came in second in the bidding to Lee’s Runway in part because of Lee’s experience in the business. He said he would still be interested in pursuing a store at the airport if Lee’s doesn’t move forward.

“We spent a lot of time on the brand and the idea, and we think it’d be great for the city and the airport,” he said.

Sisolak said commissioners have the right to decide if they want to put the project out for bid again or simply award it to the second-place bidder. “I’d rather it just go to the second-place bidder and maybe change some of the benchmarks for getting it done so it doesn’t take so long,” he said.

Commissioner Tom Collins also said he’d like to give it to the second-place bidder.

“We already had the debate on whether or not liquor should be sold at the airport,” he said. “If it brings in more revenue and the customers want it, we should do it.”

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