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City hall hicks are still easy to con
by Andrew Barbano
Jun 26, 2010 | 716 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
I don’t want to throw cold water on the latest Sparks puff story. I’m gonna throw ice cubes on it.

The Associated Press reported on Friday that some outfit is applying for a special-use permit to build the long-delayed high-rise hotel-casino at the publicly funded Sparks Marina corporate welfare project.

The Reno Gazette-Journal treated it like the second coming of Christ.

Tribunite Sarah Cooper’s much better story also hit the front page but not as a banner item presented like a sales brochure. 

“Phase one of the proposed project includes a 60,000-square-foot facility that will feature gaming, dining and entertainment amenities,” Ms. Cooper reported.

Interesting, except it can’t be done. A veteran Marina project watcher pointed out to me that all new gambling projects must be accompanied by hotel rooms. Exceptions are those grandfathered in by pre-existing agreements such as lawyer Harvey Whittemore’s controversial and still unbuilt casino north of Sparks.

“Due to the challenging economic conditions facing the industry as well as the tight credit markets, the gaming company said it plans to develop this project in phases, according to a written statement,” the Tribune reported.

“ ‘Once the project is operating and achieving its financial objectives, it is our plan to move forward with future phases,’ said DeCourcy Graham, chief marketing and development officer for Olympia Gaming, in a written statement,” Ms. Cooper wrote.

Then the kicker: “Olympia refused any further comment on the issue.”

Wonder why? The AP story noted that Dave Claflin, spokesman for the alarmingly named RED Development, said “it was premature to discuss a construction schedule for the hotel-casino.

“’It is completely up in the air right now,’ Claflin said.”

Yeah, up in the air like blue sky and bulls flying.

“This just gets it back in play,” Claflin told AP.

The bottom line of this story is that nothing is happening other than paper shuffling and press releases. The refusal to take any more questions from the Tribune speaks volumes.

I smelled a bevy of rats and started making calls.

“It’s all about selling STAR bonds,” said one expert.

“They want the Sparks City Council to fund the theater and ice arena.”

“STAR” is shorthand for Sales Tax Anticipated Revenue bonds, debt instruments sold to subsidize construction and paid by the projected sales taxes on the new property. This comes at the expense of local schools, parks, roads, police and fire protection.

Demonstrating no sense of irony, the Sparks council is now considering a sales tax hike to fund the hiring of more police officers because the department’s staff levels are dangerously low.

RED Development had the brass huevos to go before the council a few months ago to ask for public funding of the hockey rink. For once, the council said no.

This is just a way to change the game. RED and Olympia are banking on the standard boosterism overconfidence that has placed Sparks taxpayers in serious financial jeopardy by acting as co-signers on projects for wealthy out-of-state developers.

Reno is seeing those skinny chickens come home to roost. Thanks to city hall’s seduction by the siren songs of out-of-state suede-shoe traveling salesman, Reno taxpayers are now sending good money after bad. They are being forced to subsidize financially failing downtown redevelopment projects with general fund money, something I predicted many years ago and have often repeated since.

In four decades in these parts, I have seen over-the-hill syndrome afflict so many public decisions. As long as the hucksters are from out of town and wear expensive suits, local government bends over backwards to hand them public money. Detractors are dissed as Chicken Littles, complainers, whiners and gadflies.

When the stench begins to draw flies, the perps say, “We couldn’t have anticipated this.” And the taxpayers get stuck with the bill.

City hall rolls over again

Adding insult to injury, the city of Sparks has asked the state labor commissioner not to impose $332,000 in fines against IES Commercial, an electrical contractor on the marina project. The company underpaid its workers almost $50,000 and probably much more. State law says penalties can only be waived “for cause.” Unless greed is good cause, they should pay.

The general contractor and the city of Sparks both had an obligation to review wage payments to make sure workers were paid properly. They failed, as usual, and probably will again if the marina hotel-casino is ever built.

The original study on the marina project said that it would only be financially viable if a hotel-casino was included. So far, so bad. The public pocketbook is thus in jeopardy, as Sparks taxpayers are on the hook if the bubble bursts.

City hall continues to roll over and play dead for the traveling salesmen. How many cops and firefighters could be hired with $332,000? How many more fines will be waived?

Stay tuned and watch your wallet.

Be well. Raise hell.

Andrew Barbano is a 41-year Nevadan and editor of E-mail Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Tribune since 1988.
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