06/04/2004 12:00AM

New casinos take fight out to the parking lot

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There is a catchy line from a Joni Mitchell song that goes, "They paved paradise and put up a parking lot."

That phrase seemed appropriate considering what happened at the Clark County Commission on Wednesday. The panel heard a debate on parking from two powerhouses of Las Vegas gaming who pulled out their heavyweight teams of lawyers.

It seems Sheldon Adelson and Steve Wynn have been going at it over parking spaces. Lots of parking spaces. They have been neighbors on the block for some time now - at the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Sands Avenue - and are also neighbors half a world away, in Macao. But it's the high-stakes monopoly game on the Las Vegas Strip that brought them to the County Commission to settle their feud.

As Steve Wynn's $2.4 billion megaresort, Wynn Las Vegas, continues to be built at the site of the old Desert Inn, Adelson prepares to break ground on the Palazzo, his $1.6 billion addition to the Venetian, on the other side of Sands Avenue. Good stuff for Las Vegas, its tourists, and economy, but not so good for those trying to get to either place in the ever-growing gridlock of the Strip.

Every casino company must submit plans for traffic and parking accommodations to the Clark County Commission when applying for permits to build a resort. Each resort must have enough parking spaces for hotel guests and employees before being allowed to break ground.

When the Venetian was built, in the late 1990's, county officials were persuaded to waive about 30 percent of the required parking spaces. It was thought that other kinds of transportation - taxis, buses, and the yet-to-be-opened monorail system - would offset the need for some of the parking spaces. So the Venetian count is approximately 4,400 garage spaces and 1,200 off-site spots. With the construction of the 53-story, 3,020-room Palazzo, Adelson would need a total of 11,233 parking spaces. That's only if county officials continue to allow the parking-space waiver from when the Venetian was built. If the county decides to enforce parking codes, Adelson would need about 16,000 parking spaces - a far cry from the 6,600 spaces available.

Wynn's concern may be the Venetian's parking overflowing into Wynn Las Vegas. MGM Mirage also has a concern. Its Treasure Island property sits across the Strip from the Venetian. The MGM Mirage representative at the meeting said signs have been posted in the Treasure Island garages to warn Venetian employees from parking under penalty of being towed.

Although neither Wynn nor Adelson attended the meeting, each company's A-team of lawyers argued its case. Former U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan headed Adelson's attempt to gain the permits needed to break ground on the new project, while Wynn's lead council, gaming attorney Frank Schreck, insisted that the Venetian have at least 7,600 spaces before any expansion takes place. He also suggested to the commission that they work toward the goal of 11,233 spaces at the Venetian.

The commission had already put in an eight-hour day, and, after another 2 1/2 hours of sometimes volatile exchanges by the two sides, the commission voted 5-0 to give Adelson a use-permit with the condition that the Venetian have at least 7,600 available spaces before there is any further construction on the property.

So the Venetian won't be able to break ground by the end of the month, as it had planned, and the company will now work on finding a little more "paved paradise."

Ralph Siraco is turf editor of the Las Vegas Sun and host of the Race Day Las Vegas radio show.