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September 15th, 2008Control of news, gift shops a rich prize

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by Jeff German and Joe Schoenmann

A high-powered political battle is brewing over lucrative news and gift shops at McCarran International Airport.

The New Jersey-based Hudson Group’s 21-shop concession contract at the airport expires in 2010. Hoping to avoid a bidding war, Hudson is offering to spend $7 million to improve its shops at the airport and give Clark County a larger share of the gross revenue in return for an extension to 2020. The company reported $49.2 million in sales at the airport in 2007.

Big-name lobbyists for other companies that have been gearing up to bid on the contract in 2010 say the airport will be shortchanging taxpayers if it short-circuits the competition.

The high-stakes battle will take center stage Tuesday, when the County Commission considers the contract extension – and there should be plenty of high drama.

On one side, representing the Hudson Group, are former Gov. Bob Miller and politically connected attorney Frank Schreck. The influential Culinary Union also is supporting the Hudson Group because it has agreed to allow the union to organize about 150 workers.

The opposition features three of the valley’s top lobbyists – former U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan and attorneys Jay Brown and Chris Kaempfer – all of whom say failure to allow competition for the airport business would be a disservice to taxpayers.

“It precludes the county from considering bids that may generate far greater revenue than what’s proposed,” said Bryan, who represents the Atlanta-based Paradies Shops. “Competition is good for the airport, and it’s good for the taxpayers.”

Kaempfer, who represents Ayala’s Inc. of Las Vegas, said the county “will leave millions of dollars on the table” if it grants the extension.

Brown said his client, HDS Retail, a large airport retailer based in Toronto, is prepared to top anything the Hudson Group is offering the county.

In a July 21 letter to Airport Director Randall Walker, Hudson Chief Executive Joseph Didomizio proposed increasing the county’s share of gross revenue from 18 percent to 20 percent.

Read complete article.

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