When Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman floated the idea of opening a museum dedicated to organized crime, he probably didn't expect it to become a political pinata, ridiculed by lawmakers on Capitol Hill as precisely the type of earmark that shouldn't be included in a stimulus bill designed to jumpstart the economy.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) raised the ire of Goodman last month when he said stimulus dollars shouldn't be used for "things like mob museums and water slides." Never one to back down from a fight, the mayor criticized lawmakers as myopic.
Goodman, a former mob lawyer, said the officially named Las Vegas Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement would be a tourist magnet, annually drawing 250,000 attendees, and function like a traditional museum, educating visitors about the history of organized crime and the law enforcement efforts that stymied it.
Slated for a neoclassical, three-story post office and vacated federal building in downtown Las Vegas, the museum has a ways to go before welcoming its first visitors.
Backers have raised about $15 million of the estimated $50 million price tag. Goodman was hoping the federal stimulus package could provide an infusion of much-needed capital. The project is scheduled to open next year.
Goodman's request for federal funds notwithstanding, the museum is just the kind of quirky, who-could've-imagined-it idea that's drawn people to Las Vegas over the decades.
It follows the lineage of drive-through weddings, white tigers, faux volcanoes, dancing fountains and other famous Las Vegas attractions.
Judging by the caliber of folks on the museum's board, including Alan Feldman, MGM Mirage's senior vice president of public affairs, and Ellen Knowlton, the former special agent in charge of the Las Vegas FBI field office, there will be a concerted effort not to romanticize Vegas' mob era but to offer an experience that's both fun (Goodman says visitors will be able to get their mug shots taken) and enlightening.