Downtown Oscar Brown!

COLUMN: Steve Miller

Las Vegas Tribune

October 4, 2000

It is so refreshing to have a Mayor who knows where the city limits are of the town he was elected to serve. Its fun to watch Mayor Oscar Goodman when he tries to control his enthusiasm about re-directing the mis-direction of his predecessor back to where it belongs; in the city that starts just north of Sahara Avenue - the city named Las Vegas.

When Oscar was first elected, many thought that he would continue on the same path as former Mayor Jan Jones; a path that began in the county at the intersection of Spring Mountain Road and the Strip, and ended at the state Capitol in Carson City.

Jan spent most of her mayoral time out of town. She could usually be found on the Strip, (which is not located in Las Vegas) or at her home in Laguna Beach, California. She even moved her Las Vegas city residence from Pinto Lane in the heart of the city, to the outskirts in Summerlin. "Downtown Jan?" NOT!

During her first term, she constructed the pipe dream of Steve Wynn: the so-called Fremont Street Experience (FSE). When the FSE did not show anticipated results, Jones flew that coop and headed out of town to friendlier climes on the Clark County Strip.

There she spent most of her time raising funds for her first disastrous gubernatorial campaign. Meanwhile the downtown she was elected to serve languished in a shower of pigeon droppings falling from the ill conceived "Chicken Coop" over what was once historic Casino Center.

During Jones’ second term as Mayor, Downtown casino revenues continued to drop while she continued to look for a new job in Carson City. To this day they have barely recovered to their pre-Jan Jones standing.

Oscar has been around town for a long time - long enough to know that, before the FSE, the downtown casino owners protested when the city scheduled noisy parades down Fremont Street in front of their clubs. Now, amazingly, these same casino owners watch their gamblers distracted by the light and sound shows each half-hour.

Some owners are beginning to ask if Glitter Gulch would be more profitable if it were restored?

Oscar need look any farther than the City Clerk’s office to find the taped transcript of the Council meeting in 1992, where a "Contingency Fund" to restore Fremont Street was discussed.

This fund was to be placed in escrow to be used in the event the canopy idea failed. It looks like the time has come to revisit that Council meeting and locate the whereabouts of the fund.

In apparent retaliation for declining revenues, one downtown club, the Horseshoe, has reportedly stopped paying the Fremont Street Limited Liability Corporation its yearly million dollars in assessments. If this is proven correct, are the other FSE casinos soon to follow?

Downtown sources report that FSE Executive Director Mark Parris was recently confronted by the unlicensed owner of the Horseshoe, Nick Behnen, and told in no certain terms that his wife Becky’s casino was no longer going to pay dues to support the canopy. The same sources say that Parris was intimidated by Behnen and has taken no action to collect the money. Parris has not returned phone calls for comment.

Meanwhile, state Gaming Control authorities are also reportedly astonished at Behnen’s alleged chutzpah but, I’m told, have also decided to take no action for fear of putting a lot of people out of work if sanctions were to be taken against the financially troubled casino.

If this information proves accurate, there’s no telling what the other LLC partners will say or do to make up for such a huge deficit; a deficit that is supplemented by the taxpayers in the form of $1 million parks dollars per year from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, another Jones brainstorm.

The "Contingency Fund" being placed in escrow was part of the Owner Participation Agreement between the Downtown Redevelopment Agency and the FSE Limited Liability Corporation. This fund should still be available to pay for dismantling the canopy and restoring at least one lane of vehicular access in each direction at no cost to the taxpayers – unless the fund has since been squandered!

Meanwhile, on the other side of the tracks, a new Downtown, the Downtown of Oscar Goodman’s dreams is beginning to materialize.

Oscar’s first term in office may prove he is the "Roto-Rooter Man" we needed to clean up the mess left behind by Jones. If he does not seek a second term, at least he will have created a clean slate for a new Mayor.

I truly hope that "Downtown Oscar" stays in office for at least as long as Mayor Oran Gragson, or Mayor Bill Briare, two of our town’s living legends, who retained the Mayor’s office for a combined twenty-four of the best years in our Downtown’s history.

But before our Downtown can become the true heart of our city, many details will need to be tended to including the restoration of historic Casino Center.

Possibly, if Oscar decides to run for another term in 2003, he will have new blood on the Council to back him up. In 2003, Ward One, and Ward Three will also be deciding if the present Councilmembers, Mike McDonald and Gary Reese, deserve reelection.

If Oscar decides to run for reelection in 2003, and if he is given another term with new members on the Council, he may find himself in a position any Mayor of any major city would dream of being in: to be able to evolve his dream for his city on a clean canvas with the unanimous support of his colleagues and his constituents.

In 2003, thanks to Mayor Oscar Goodman, I anticipate a day when Las Vegans realize where their city limits begin and end.

Steve Miller is a former Las Vegas City Councilman, Clark County Regional Transportation Commissioner, and member of the Downtown Las Vegas Redevelopment Agency. He was voted the "Most Effective Public Official" in Southern Nevada in 1991. Visit his website at: