Las Vegas stadium energizes proposed monorail extension
The Las Vegas Monorail Co. will seek approval from Clark County Commissioners this week to expand the MGM Grand monorail route to Mandalay Bay.
The 1-mile-long extension was a project flagged for advancement in a traffic assessment report commissioned by the Nevada Department of Transportation board and released earlier this month. Along with the extension, a pedestrian bridge is proposed which would link the new monorail station to a proposed site on Russell Road for a new $1.9 billion stadium.
The Monorail Company, a private, non-profit organization, is asking the county for up to two years to acquire funding and begin construction of the 3.9-mile elevated monorail extension, which runs east of the Strip since 2004.
Construction of the monorail extension could begin as early as the second quarter of 2017, according to safeguard documents provided to the County Commission. Currently, no public funding is being sought for the project.
California’s Men’s Apparel Guild fashion show, or MAGIC, held twice a year in Las Vegas, has propelled talk of extending the monorail, but the proposal hasn’t reached the point of possible progress until now.
The convention is split between the Mandalay Bay and Las Vegas convention centers, and transportation between the two venues proved expensive, time-consuming and tedious for the group putting on the show.
CONNECTIVITY THE OBJECTIVE
Connectivity along the Strip, especially between the multiple large-scale convention centers, has become a big issue during meetings of the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee, County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak said. who sat on this committee. The panel recommended the stadium, which fans hope will be the new home of the NFL’s Oakland Raiders.
During those meetings, industry leaders on the committee highlighted the lack of connectivity at the Las Vegas Convention Center, the Sands Expo and Convention Center and the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, Sisolak said.
With traffic, shuttling delegates between venues can sometimes take an hour and a half, Sisolak said.
The monorail extension could also serve as another means of transporting people to the proposed stadium, Sisolak said.
At their Wednesday zoning meeting, scheduled for 9 a.m. in the commission chambers, the commissioners will discuss whether to allow the expansion. The County Planning Commission approved a use permit for the project earlier this month.
Sisolak hopes the measure will pass this week.
“I think that makes a tremendous amount of sense,” Sisolak said. “Something has to be done with the transportation on the Strip corridor and with the convention centers. There has to be a better way to move some of these people.
RIDERS WILL PAY FOR BONDS
While previous estimates put the cost of the extension at $100 million, monorail spokeswoman Ingrid Reisman said last week that “we’re not at the design level where we know the exact cost.” .
Funding for the project is expected to come from bonds that would be repaid with revenue from fare-paying passengers, Reisman said. A one-way monorail ticket is $5 and a 24-hour unlimited pass is $12.
The Southern Nevada Regional Transportation Commission had previously considered using its credit rating to secure low-interest bonds for the expansion project. Those talks were suspended in August due to restrictions in the bylaws governing the transportation committee, an agency spokeswoman said.
The monorail company is now using about $1.9 million in investment income from a $6 million doomsday account to pay for expansion-related expenses. The fund has been in place since 2000, when the County Commission asked the monorail company to set aside funds to dismantle the monorail in the event of default.
The monorail company must repay the money borrowed from the doomsday account at an interest rate of 4%.
It is not yet known how the bonds would be paid if the goodwill revenue were insufficient.
The monorail already connects SLS Las Vegas to the MGM Grand and has seven stations, including stops at the Las Vegas Convention Center, Westgate, Bally’s/Paris Las Vegas, Flamingo/Caesars Palace and Harrah’s/the LINQ.
Stretching it further would increase ridership and reduce traffic on the Strip, supporters said. Connecting to Mandalay Bay would give guests of 9,000 additional hotel rooms access to the monorail.
Ridership and revenue have been issues for the monorail, especially during and since the Great Recession.
The monorail company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January 2010 after failing to repay $650 million in construction and start-up costs. The company exited bankruptcy proceedings in 2012, leaving it with a 98% debt reduction to $13 million and maintaining its nonprofit status.
From January to September of this year, monorail ridership averaged about 13,300 people per day. While ridership in 2015 was 5.1 million, well above the 4.55 million in 2014, it is still far from the more than 7.9 million users in 2007.
Monorail revenue in the third quarter of this year is estimated at $15.8 million, about $300,000 less than the same period last year.
Earlier this month, the legislature approved plans to build a 65,000-seat domed stadium in the county. A 62-acre site west of Mandalay Bay on Russell Road across Interstate 15 was favored as the future stadium site.
Extending the monorail to Mandalay Bay could help drive foot traffic to the stadium if a proposed pedestrian bridge connecting the two venues is built.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said a study comparing Las Vegas to Oakland was the next step in the team’s relocation process.
Eventually, 24 of the NFL’s 32 team owners will have to vote to approve the team’s move for that to happen.
The stadium funding plan includes $750 million in hotel room taxes, $500 million from the Raiders and $650 million from Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson.
The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson.