Ex-mayor cast for key Vegas promotional role

10 August 2011

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- The showgirls will get a few months off, but they'll need to stay in shape.

On Tuesday, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority board approved a two-year deal to pay former Mayor Oscar Goodman $60,000 annually as the chairman of an embryonic host committee, with a two-year renewal option. That will effectively cast him, complete with his trademark accessories, as the valley's chief promotional officer.

Already, the authority has budgeted $101.8 million this year for advertising and marketing, with even more spent by individual resorts. But, until now, none has built its messages around a single person.

"I will be the brand of Las Vegas," said Goodman, who is widely known from 12 years as mayor and a prior career as a criminal defense attorney with clients reputed to have ties to organized crime.

In part, the host committee will take on the task of selling Las Vegas to the world, particularly the meetings and conventions that come with much higher per-capita spending than other tourism.

Perhaps as important, the committee will sell the industry to the rest of Las Vegas and the part of the business community not directly tied to the fortunes of the Strip. Spokesman Vince Alberta said the authority had become concerned that locals view major events more as traffic snarls to be avoided than as economic boons.

"We think we have done a great job promoting Las Vegas to the world," he said. "But we haven't done such a good job explaining what the tourist industry does for the community."

The current plan would place 13 people on the committee, including seats allocated to the Metropolitan Police Department, the Fremont Street Experience and several industries, such as banks and retailers. Goodman will play a major role in molding the committee's final form by the end of October.

In response to a question about being paid $60,000 for a part-time job, Goodman said he already had turned down an unspecified $50,000 speaking gig because of the new role.

"For some reason, I am in demand," he said.

Last week, he announced a deal to license his persona and name to the Plaza hotel downtown for a speakeasy and two restaurants. Terms were not disclosed.

In an unrelated matter, the authority approved a pair of raises for 316 employees represented by the Service Employees International Union Local 1107.

The terms call for the workers to receive a 3.5 percent cash bonus during the fiscal year to end next June 30, followed by a 1.25 percent base pay raise the following year. The two provisions, at a total cost of $798,000, were approved by a 98 percent vote of the union members.

The five-year contract, which went into effect in July 2008, allowed for annual reopenings for pay alone. Last year, the authority offered nothing and an arbitrator concurred.

One reason the authority opted for the two-year deal was to avoid year-round bargaining.

"All I would be doing is negotiating and I have other things to do, thank you," said Mark Olson, the authority's vice president of human resources.

However, he added, a new state law allows the authority to revisit the raises if another economic downturn makes pay cuts imperative.

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