By her own admission, Marilyn Kirkpatrick isn’t an expert on stadiums. The Nevada Assembly speaker’s day job is food sales, not sports venues.
So, the North Las Vegas Democrat doesn’t know whether a proposed University of Nevada, Las Vegas stadium/entertainment center should be domed or how many seats it should have.
But she said the new UNLV panel charged with drafting the stadium’s scope, cost and funding options needs to focus on how a big-time, campus-based sports and entertainment venue will best fit student needs while also helping the university’s budget.
“It has to be about the UNLV students, but if the facility can be a benefit to the economy for the long term, we have to consider it,” Kirkpatrick said.
Like many others around Las Vegas, Kirkpatrick said the $900 million price tag attached to a previously proposed stadium was too high. UNLV officials earlier this year scrapped plans for a domed, 60,000-seat “Mega Events Center,” cut loose its deep-pocketed private partner, Majestic Realty, and pursued the state legislation to create the stadium panel and related tax district.
“They got away from the original intent. Who was it really benefiting?” Kirkpatrick said in her first extended interview on the subject. “What is it that we need?”
Kirkpatrick will closely observe the UNLV stadium board’s answers to those questions because she sponsored the legislation that created the 11-member stadium board and tax district on campus to capture potential sales tax revenue related to new stadium-related development.
UNLV officials had pitched the Mega Events Center as a cutting-edge venue with the nation’s biggest video screen, but they didn’t devote much attention to university events such as Rebels football games. They talked about the benefits of bringing in big-time events such as an NFL Pro Bowl, country music concerts or a college basketball Final Four.
Kirkpatrick said the panel’s final three members will be named Thursday at a Nevada Legislative Commission meeting at the Grant Sawyer State Office Building in Las Vegas. Kirkpatrick, Gov. Brian Sandoval and Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, will each name a board member.
Those appointees will join eight members on the new board. The Board of Regents appointed four: Regents members Mike Wixom and James Dean Leavitt, both lawyers in Las Vegas; Regent Cedric Crear, an ad agency owner; and Don Snyder, the former bank and gaming executive who serves as UNLV’s stadium pointman. The other four are Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani and three hotel-casino representatives: Boyd Gaming COO Paul Chakmak, Rick Arpin of MGM Resorts International and Sean McBurney of Caesars Entertainment.
The board will convene next month and is required by law to issue a stadium report that will outline the proposed stadium’s scope, price and funding options to the Nevada Legislature by Sept. 30, 2014.
Snyder, who also led the efforts to build The Smith Center for the Performing Arts and the Fremont Street Experience, said it was essential to have the Las Vegas hotel-casino industry at the table to plan for a new on-campus stadium. Kirkpatrick said she is comfortable with the number of casino representatives (three) on the 11-member stadium panel.
“You have to have the resort community play a role in it,” she said. “You don’t want them to dominate it, but they need to have a voice.”
When the new board convenes next month, issues they face include:
■ How much influence will the three casino industry representatives exert on the public board? And how will these three, who are used to operating out of the sunshine behind closed doors, work on a board governed by open records and open meetings laws?
■ Where will UNLV find the money for research and planning? Previously, Majestic Realty paid for architects, renderings and economic impact studies.
■ Will the board suggest a domed venue or go for open-air? A dome or retractable roof will add tens of millions of dollars to the proposed cost. Snyder has suggested some form of covered facility.
■ What politically palatable funding options will the board recommend? Snyder previously floated fees on hotel rooms and taxi rides, but those options drew stiff opposition. He also got nowhere with a request for the resorts to kick in money for the Mega Events Center. Kirkpatrick said sales tax on new retail development in the campus stadium district is an option, but past studies showed that level of revenues would not pay for a new venue.
Contact Alan Snel at email@example.com or 702-387-5273. Follow Snel on Twitter at @bicyclemansnel.