Sides clash on monorail project

LAS VEGAS - Friends and foes of the proposed expansion of the Strip monorail testified for more than six hours on whether the state of Nevada should issue $650 million in revenue bonds to pay for the project.

Those with a financial stake in the outcome spent Thursday afternoon presenting figures they said showed that the project is either a financial boondoggle or an ingenious private solution to mounting traffic and pollution problems on the Strip.

The hearing was held before the state Department of Business and Industry, whose director will issue findings in the next two weeks on whether the state Board of Finance should approve the tax-exempt bonds sought by the project's sponsors.

The findings likely will determine the fate of the 3.8-mile railway, which runs from the MGM Grand to Bally's and would be expanded along the east side of the Strip north to the Sahara. Ownership of the monorail would be transferred from the MGM Grand and Park Place Entertainment, which built the existing leg, to a new nonprofit corporation that would manage the project.

Supporters of the project, led by the MGM Grand and Park Place Entertainment, have multiple studies showing the monorail will draw about 20 million riders a year. Fare-box revenue from those riders and money from advertising on the trains are the only funds that can be used to repay the bonds.

But opponents, led by The Venetian, contend that ridership forecasts issued by the project's supporters don't add up. Studies conducted by the hotel's supporters predict that only 10 million people will ride the monorail at $2.50 per ride, and that would cause a default on the bonds.

The Venetian has led an effort against the monorail, funding a small army of consultants, economists and lawyers to fight a project that could hurt its business. Besides the hotel-casino, The Venetian's parent company owns Las Vegas Sands Inc., a private convention center that competes with the Las Vegas Convention Center, which would have a stop on the monorail.

A key to the opponents' arguments has been the suggestion that tourists would be less likely to ride the monorail if they were charged a fare, because rides on the current monorail are free.

About the only thing that was clear after Thursday's testimony was that the battle over the project is likely to linger long after the state makes a decision on financing.


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