Henderson, NV: do not go all in with public money for a baseball stadium

The large Las Vegas suburb of Henderson is interested in acquiring a major league baseball team and willing to use a lot of taxpayer dollars to do it:

Renderings show a retractable-roof baseball stadium near St. Rose Parkway and Bermuda Road in rapidly growing west Henderson, which city officials envision as a hub for sports and entertainment. The proposed site, one of four floated by the city, sits behind the future headquarters and practice facility of the NFL’s Raiders.

According to the presentation, Henderson hired a consultant to conduct a financial analysis, assuming the ballpark would have 32,000 seats and space for 4,000 standing-room-only ticket holders. The Diamondbacks would serve as the primary tenant for a 30-year term and the stadium would be publicly owned and exempt from property tax.

The consultant estimated the ballpark would cost about $1 billion to construct…

The Diamondbacks expressed interest in creating a development at a potential new home, pointing to the entertainment district near the Atlanta Braves’ SunTrust Park as inspiration, according to documents that detailed the team’s wish list for prospective suitors.

The city said it ultimately views itself as capable of drawing major sports franchises because of a business-friendly approach, attractive demographics, socioeconomic characteristics and available land.

It sounds like the suburb of over 300,000 residents sees at least three benefits of such a move:

1. It would boost the status of the suburb. Few suburbs could boast of a collection like this with an MLB team, an NFL practice facility, and an ice rink connected to an NHL team. This could then help attract businesses and residents.

2. The potential for development around a major league stadium. Imagine restaurants, retailers, and residences near the stadium.

3. Becoming a unique location with a growing metropolitan region. As suburbs compete for corporate headquarters, residents, retailers, and entertainment centers, a stadium would stand out. It is easy for critics to stereotypes as collections of subdivisions and strip malls but Henderson would have a different collection of sites.

Yet, the research is clear: sports stadiums enrich sports teams, not communities. Suburbs that have tried this tend to run into problems (see recent examples of Glendale, Arizona and Bridgeview, Illinois). Teams will use cities and suburbs against each other to get better deals – just as big companies like Amazon do – and also leave those places behind if they can get better deals.

So before Henderson throws up to a billion dollars at a major league team, they should think twice. Can the suburb handle that amount of debt if it does not work out? Could that money be spent elsewhere on development and/or amenities that would benefit a broader swath of their residents? Is being a high-status suburb more important than being a quality place to live?

When saying that Harry Reid lives in a McMansion, is this meant as a negative?

The term McMansion is rarely used in a positive manner. Yet, a recent profile of former Senator Harry Reid’s life after politics describes his home as a McMansion:

Early on the afternoon of Dec. 11, about an hour after an Oval Office meeting between President Trump, the Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and the incoming House speaker Nancy Pelosi devolved on live TV into a shouting match — a “tinkle contest with a skunk,” in Pelosi’s postgame grandiloquence — I pulled up to a McMansion in a gated community outside Las Vegas. I presented my ID and pre-issued bar-code pass to a security guard. Another guard emerged from a sedan in the driveway, instructed me to leave my rental car across the street and pointed me to the front door.

And a later paragraph says more about the location of the home:

Reid has decided to live out his last years in Henderson, a fast-growing and transient Las Vegas suburb. His house is in the upscale Anthem neighborhood: a fortified village of beige dwellings of various sizes and otherwise indistinguishable appearances. There is a Witness Protection Program vibe to the place, accentuated by the security detail.

The descriptions of Reid’s home draw on several traits of McMansions: an “indistinguishable appearance,” located in a gated and wealthy suburban neighborhood. Presumably, the home is large though little is said about this.

To the main point: few people use McMansion as a positive term. By saying that Reid lives in a McMansion, the writer is suggesting the home is a negative. And in the way that Americans tend to operate – what you own says something about you – then Reid himself is a negative figure. This may fit with the overall tenor of the article which suggests Reid is an unusual and odd guy:

One of Reid’s assets as a leader, when he was in office, was his willingness to feed the egos of his colleagues before his own; he was happy to yield credit, attention and TV appearances. Yet when I visited Reid in Nevada, I detected a whiff of, if not neediness per se, maybe a need to remind me that he has not been forgotten. He told me that he received a lovely call that morning from Barbara Boxer, the former Democratic senator from California. He gets calls from his former colleagues all the time, he said, and they tell Reid he is missed. He had a final conversation with John McCain over the summer, just before McCain died, punctuated with “I love you”s.

Reading Reid can be difficult. Is he playing a game or working an angle or even laughing at a private joke he just told himself? When speaking of his final goodbye with McCain, he broke into a strange little grin, his lips pressed upward as if he could have been stifling either amusement or tears. It occurred to me that Reid, typically as self-aware as he is unsentimental, could have been engaged in a gentle playacting of how two old Senate combatants of a fast-vanishing era are supposed to say goodbye to each other for posterity.

Do odd or hard-to-read politicians live in McMansions? Can a leading Senator truly be a person of the people if he lives in a McMansion in a wealthy suburban neighborhood? The choice of calling Reid’s home a McMansion at least hints at these possibilities.

 

Improving transit options in Las Vegas

It may be an iconic scene to drive down the Strip in Las Vegas but the city is looking for ways to improve transit:

But consistent growth has forced a city known for sprawl to start to change its ways. Last year, voters approved a measure that ties fuel taxes to inflation, a move that will address the region’s $6 billion shortfall in road infrastructure. In addition, the Regional Transportation Commission approved a new long-term plan to expand light rail down the Maryland Parkway and massively expand bus service. In mid-March, the RTC submitted a proposal to build a multibillion-dollar light rail system that would connect the Strip with McCarran International Airport.

The Strip has limited transit solutions, most of them privately funded by the gaming industry. A series of free trams that travel from casino to casino allows tourists to move up and down the western side of the Strip without using cars. In 2004, a 3.9-mile monorail opened just to the east of the Strip that serves casinos on that side as well as the convention center. The city also created a double-decker public bus named the Deuce that exclusively serves the Strip…

Brown says comparing Vegas to other cities, especially those in the Northeast with subway and rail systems, isn’t fair. Vegas has a different growth pattern due to the influx of tourists and the large number of workers who serve them—all of whom need to move to one place—and will need a different type of technology to solve its transport issues. “Vegas is about as unique a place in the world as you can find.”

Autonomous vehicles are one option that could improve congestion, lower emissions, and appeal to tourists’ desire for novelty. Brown wants infrastructure that can support and take advantage of that technology. The city and RTC are aggressively courting autonomous vehicle companies and studying “high capacity corridors” throughout Southern Nevada to prioritize opportunities for bus rapid transit.

These options sound like they would help. In particular, giving people an option to take a train from the airport to the Strip is something that should have been done years ago.

At the same time, these are primarily changes that would take advantage of the existing road structure (outside of the monorail and light-rail options). Perhaps it is too much to ask for a city with such important structures – the sprawling casinos built along the Strip – to attempt to create a denser, more walkable streetscape. The amount of work that would need to be done to better tie together the casinos would be massive. But, as someone who has walked the Strip multiple times, wouldn’t it create a more exciting experience for tourists? Wouldn’t it reduce traffic and the long lines at the taxi stands? Maybe the true goal of the Strip is get people to do their recreational walking within the casinos – stroll through Venice or Ancient Rome so you’ll spend some money there – but there are some bigger questions about urban planning than just providing a few more mass transit options.

Las Vegas willing to pay record public subsidy to have NFL

How much power does the NFL have? Enough to have major cities commit incredible sums of public monies:

Las Vegas appears poised to claim the mantle of World’s Most Expensive Stadium from East Rutherford, New Jersey, where the Jets and Giants play in the $1.6 billion MetLife Stadium. (Los Angeles Stadium, Stan Kroenke’s project that will host the Rams and Chargers, is estimated at $2.6 billion—but that cost includes parts of the surrounding entertainment district.*)

Clark County taxpayers will contribute $750 million to the new arena, a record for a sports facility—about $354 per resident, taken from an increased tax on hotel rooms. That tax currently pays for schools and transportation, in addition to tourism-related expenditures.

Stanford economist Roger Noll said it was the “worst deal for a city” he had ever seen…

The state’s figures to justify that new tax are… ambitious. Its forecasts suggest 450,000 new visitors every year drawn by the 65,000-seat stadium, spending an average of 3.2 nights per visit. About a third of tickets are supposed to be purchased by tourists, although no other city manages 10 percent. Why half a million people would fly across the country to watch a team that no one wants to pay $20 to see in Oakland is not clear.

Even with the studies that show stadiums don’t contribute anything to cities, it seems that someone is always willing to pay. In this case, it wasn’t just Las Vegas: Oakland tried to put together a last-minute deal that they claimed would require even less of the team:

Schaaf told ESPN Friday she believes Oakland’s new stadium plan is viable.

“At the end of the day, this is the decision of the Raiders and the NFL,” Schaaf said. “What I am confident about is, if the Raiders want to stay in Oakland, we have a viable plan to build them a stadium with no upfront money from them, in financial terms that I believe are more favorable to them than the terms in Las Vegas — what we know of them.”

I’m still waiting for a city mayor or other big-name official to publicly bid a major sports franchise good riddance when they ask for a lot of local money. Perhaps that would be bad form – local officials are usually in the business of trying to attract everyone they can – but it could also send a strong signal about how private interests cannot overrule the long-term public interest.

Declining American homeownership illustrated in Las Vegas

That city that may have been the exemplar of the early 2000s housing boom may now provide good evidence of a shift from owning to renting in the United States:

The shift to rental in single-family homes is visible on streets like Recktenwall. Between 2005 and 2009, about 80% of such houses in greater Las Vegas were owner-occupied; by 2013, that had dropped to 71%, a 12,000-unit shift…

But the homeownership decline is not entirely tragic. For the footloose, the empty-nested, the risk-averse and assorted others (contract workers, military servicemembers) renting makes sense…

The housing crash’s ground zero was Las Vegas. People who thought you couldn’t lose money on a house lost everything. At one point, an astonishing three quarters of Las Vegas mortgage holders owed more on their homes than they were worth, a percentage that still hovers around 25%.

That’s one of many factors suppressing home sales. Another is the fact that millions of houses have been flipped to rentals by investors who snapped them up at rock-bottom prices years ago.

This long article that covers presidential support of homeownership in recent decades to the perks of some newer apartment complexes presents an interesting conundrum: Americans – including young adults – tend to say that they would prefer or aspire to own a home but for a variety of reasons – from bad credit to tight credit in the mortgage industry to uncertain jobs to college loans to better perks in rental complexes to more options like single family homes available for rent – see renting as desirable at the moment. Some of this might only be determined over time; will the housing market conditions continue to push people toward renting? And, if this happens, does the aspirations of owning a home also slowly decline?

What would be helpful to see with this article that uses Las Vegas: where has the population increased or declined in the metropolitan region over the last ten years or so? While the single-family home market was hit hard, does that mean the suburbs lost people and residents moved closer to the region’s center?

Why are The Property Brothers renovating a Las Vegas McMansion?

The Property Brothers at Home recently started on HGTV and it involves renovating a large home outside Las Vegas. Though they don’t call it this, here is why the home is a McMansion:

1. It is about 5,000 square feet. Plenty of space inside, particularly with the cavernous living room.

2. It is on a quiet residential street about 11 miles outside of Las Vegas. Classic suburban setting.

3. It is a relatively new build. It does beg the question of why a relatively new house needs so many new design ideas.

4. The home has a Mediterranean exterior which is not exactly “native” to Las Vegas (though defining “native” Las Vegas architecture could be interesting).

5. It was purchased as a foreclosure. Las Vegas was one of the foreclosure centers in recent years.

There are a few factors going against the McMansion trend: the home does not necessarily seem poorly built (often a critique of mass-produced homes) and it is on a decent size lot.

Why would the Scott brothers want to be associated with such a home? I understand that they are putting their own personal touch on it but many critics would argue they are starting from a bad place: garish home in a lonely suburban neighborhood in the metropolitan region that exemplifies suburban and consumerist excess.

“Without Lake Mead, there would be no Las Vegas”

The 14 year drought in southern Nevada, northern Arizona, and southern California threatens Lake Mead and the water supply to Las Vegas and other communities. The ability to have such a city in the middle of a desert is quite remarkable. It rests on the construction of Hoover Dam:

HooverDamJul12

I’ve been there twice and I was impressed both times by the ability to put this all together in the 1930s. Yet, the dam is highly dependent on available water and weather patterns. Here is a look at the lower Lake Mead from the top of Hoover Dam in July 2012:

LakeMeadJul12

While this is partly a cautionary tale about the the limits of human consumption, it also presents an opportunity for human ingenuity. As the news report notes, “Las Vegas actually reuses 93% of its water.” Imagine if all cities in the world reached such levels. Thus, even with an extended drought, Las Vegas may continue to thrive:

BellagioFountainsJul12

The show must go on…