Before UNLV ditched billionaire Ed Roski’s Majestic Realty as its private partner for a proposed stadium, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas received an offer from a powerful hotel-casino company to help build the 60,000-seat venue, the Las Vegas Review-Journal learned Thursday.
MGM Resorts International, which unveiled plans for a 20,000-seat arena just off the Strip four weeks ago, suggested that UNLV transfer events from its Thomas & Mack Center to the new MGM Resorts venue. In return, MGM Resorts would provide “meaningful support” for the proposed stadium.
MGM Resorts made the offer two years ago, then revisited the issue earlier this year. As described by a source who is familiar with both approaches, MGM Resorts asked for a noncompete agreement. The deal would allow the university to keep Rebels basketball games and children’s events, such as Disney on Ice, at Thomas & Mack Center while surrendering 15 to 40 events such as concerts each year to MGM Resorts’ arena.
Exactly what shape the resort giant’s “meaningful support” for the UNLV stadium project would take is unclear.
MGM Resorts, which owns 10 hotel-casinos on the Strip, has pledged a $20 million donation to UNLV for the stadium. But Feb. 13, MGM issued a harsh statement against the university’s UNLVNow stadium concept, saying “it has grown too expensive for our community to support.”
The stadium project, which included millions of dollars for parking garages and relocating current athletic fields, was estimated at nearly $900 million. UNLV is looking at reducing the project’s scope to cut costs after MGM Resorts’ criticism.
UNLV’s point man on the stadium project, Don Snyder, said he had no knowledge of an MGM Resorts offer.
He said the university dumped Majestic Realty so that it could work directly with Las Vegas’ “Big Six” hotel-casino owners — MGM Resorts, Las Vegas Sands Corp., Station Casinos, Boyd Gaming Corp., Caesars Entertainment Corp. and Wynn Resorts Ltd. — and the entire resort industry.
Gerry Bomotti, who oversees Thomas & Mack as UNLV’s senior vice president for finance and business, dismissed talk of MGM Resorts involvement in the stadium decision as “a rumor without any basis in fact.”
“Such an agreement would have severe negative financial consequences to UNLV, our athletic programs, and our student athletes. Thomas & Mack Center activities (including Sam Boyd Stadium and the Cox Pavilion) provide $7 million, $8 million per year in direct and indirect support to our athletic programs,” Bomotti said.
“If we lost non-UNLV athletic events (such as National Finals Rodeo, summer NBA league, PBR (Professional Bull Riders) and a host of others), we would not only be unable to support the operations of the Thomas & Mack Center, but could jeopardize the existence of our current athletic programs and activities.”
MGM Resorts spokesman Gordon Absher called any suggestion that his company would tie support for a stadium to events that would move to its new arena “offensive and ridiculous.”
He said MGM Resorts supports a “reasonably sized, responsibly financed stadium” at UNLV.
Snyder also said Majestic was dropped because the proposed stadium has evolved from a UNLV-centric project into a neutral-site venue that would help big Strip hotels more than UNLV.
“We need to engage dialogue with the entire resort industry,” Snyder said Thursday.
That was the recommendation earlier this month by New York-based consultant Sterling Project Development. The consulting firm examined UNLV’s agreement with Majestic and reported “the project in its current form does not have sufficient stakeholder agreement pertaining to the size and scope of the project as well as its financing.”
Sterling suggested that UNLV “re-engage with the LVCVA (Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority) as well as the hotel industry to gauge the nature and extent of their support for the mega-events center.”
Majestic, which built the Staples Center in Los Angeles, had spent millions of dollars since October 2010 on the UNLV stadium plan., which was to be the centerpiece of UNLVNow, a sweeping campus face-lift that included more than 2,000 student housing units and 300,000 square-feet of retail space.
On Wednesday, Majestic’s point man, Craig Cavileer, wrote UNLV President Neal Smatresk that Majestic “is entitled to a forthright explanation” about the current and future status of the relationship.
Cavileer received a response that same day, in the form of a termination letter.