Austin, Texas developer Chris Milam has sued a city outside Austin over a stalled development project. He ran into problems with the city of Henderson when he failed to develop an arena project in the city. Photo credit: Austin Business Journal

Remember ‘Arena Developer’ Chris Milam in Henderson? He’s Suing a Texas City Over a Stalled Project



He’s back.


And he’s involved in another lawsuit with another town.


Developer Chris Milam, who sweet-talked former Henderson city officials six years ago into thinking he would build an arena project in their city, has sued the city of Bee Cave and three city council members in Texas over his stalled development proposal at an outdoor music venue on 36 acres outside Austin.


Milam’s Backyard Partners, LLC filed a lawsuit dated Jan. 22 that asserts in the introduction’s first sentence that, “This case is one of a few bad apples spoiling the bunch.”


Also known as the famed “Few Bad Apples” legal argument.


Milam’s law firm, Austin, Texas-based Weisbart Springer Hayes, argued in legal papers that three city council members — Bill Goodwin, Monty Parker and Kara King — “have actively campaigned to prevent the re-development of Bee Cave’s music and cultural center — the Backyard amphitheater.”


This time, Milam’s development vision outside Austin is a hotel, two data centers, a clean energy center, six office buildings, two parking garages and two music venues together known as the Backyard.


As best as we can see, no NBA arena is included. (Milam had his eyes on the Sacramento Kings to move to his ill-fated NBA arena in Henderson.)


While Milam digs in for a legal battle in the suburbs of Austin, his name is infamous in the city of Henderson.


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Six years ago, Milam used the city in an attempt to buy Bureau of Land Management land so that he could supposedly build an NBA basketball arena, soccer stadium and other sports facilities near the M Resort and Inspirada development.


But Milam never did build the sports project.


And there’s a date that will live in infamy in Henderson — Nov. 28, 2012 when Milam told the city of Henderson that his $650 million arena project was no longer viable on the 480 acres of BLM land that the city had zoned for Milam’s proposed arena complex.


But Milam had a catch — even though the sports facility project was off the table in Henderson,  Milam still wanted to move ahead to buy the federal land for $10.5 million that the city claimed in lawsuits was going to be used by Milam for housing developments and not the arena he promised.


And that’s when things turned messy.


The city of Henderson sued Milam and four of his consultants in January 2013, alleging land fraud for Milam’s attempt at buying the BLM land at a bargain rate of $22,000 per acre for housing instead of the sports venues that Milam had touted to the city.


Milam settled with Henderson in March 2013, with the legal deal including a classic line straight out of the Wild West when Milam was told to never step foot in Henderson to do business in the city ever again.


So, he returned to Texas.


In a suburban community called Bee Cave outside Austin, Milam proposed a few years ago to build the $500 million hotel and office development at the former music venue called The Backyard.


And while Milam said in legal papers he could never get the financial backing from a Chinese company to build the arena in Henderson, in Bee Cave he has a partner for The Backyard with deep pockets — John Paul DeJoria, the hair products and tequila magnate.


But this time in Bee Cave, Milam ran into a roadblock. The city council was split 3-3 over his land development proposal.


So, Milam filed his lawsuit against the city of Bee Cave and the three opposing council members a week ago.


The Milam arena soap opera in Henderson had multiple plots, including one that focused on the former director of the BLM.


The city of Henderson argued former BLM Director Bob Abbey used his political connections to help Milam’s BLM land deal because Abbey was a business partner with Mike Ford — one of Milam’s consultants who was also named by the city in its lawsuit against Milam. Both Abbey, who retired from the BLM in May 2012, and Ford had denied they did anything wrong.


The feds eventually looked into the matter.


In May 2016, the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of the Interior concluded, “We discovered no evidence that Milam purchased the land with the intent to flip it, but our investigation revealed that Abbey was personally and substantially involved in the presale process for the land.


“We also found that Abbey stood to benefit personally from the sale through his business connection to Mike Ford, a land consultant who represented Milam’s business interests during the sale process. We presented these findings to the District of Nevada U.S. Attorney’s Office, which declined prosecution.”


The OIG report noted, “In addition, our investigation revealed that Ford, also a former BLM employee, had an unusually high level of access to BLM personnel and processes before and during the land sale. A BLM realty specialist who was involved in the presale process told us that she gave precedence to Ford’s land applications when he did business with BLM, and that she had shared nonpublic draft documents with him during the Henderson presale.”


Down in Bee Cave outside Austin, the city has not responded to Milam’s lawsuit, City Manager Travis Askey told this morning.


Other than that, he offered no further comment and thanked a journalist for calling.




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Alan Snel

Alan Snel brings decades of sports-business reporting experience to Snel covered the business side of sports for the South Florida (Fort Lauderdale) Sun-Sentinel, the Tampa Tribune and Las Vegas Review-Journal. As a city hall beat reporter, Snel also covered stadium deals in Denver and Seattle. In 2000, Snel launched a sport-business website for called After reporting sports-business for the RJ, Snel wrote hard-hitting stories on the Raiders stadium for the Desert Companion magazine in Las Vegas and The Nevada Independent. Snel is also one of the top bicycle advocates in the country.

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