Las Vegas just isn't innovating enough these days.
We're not talking about the oft-repeated lament that the city isn't bringing in diverse, new businesses.
No, the worry this time is that Las Vegas isn't doing enough to upgrade its core tourism sector.
That was the message delivered by Robert Lang, director of the Brookings Mountain West think tank at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, to the Las Vegas Hospitality Association at a Thursday luncheon.
Sure, economic development is important, but Southern Nevada will always rely on tourism for a huge chunk of its vitality and growth, Lang said. Tourism makes up more than half of the city's export economy, a recent Brookings report showed. And those exports could increase if the city made two key improvements. All that's needed to make both upgrades happen is an assist from the state Legislature and a combination of public and private dollars.
First, the city absolutely needs a new stadium, especially given competition for shows and events from venues such as Orlando, Fla.'s Amway Center basketball arena and Cowboys Stadium outside Dallas.
"We have the biggest mismatch in the country," Lang said. "We have the largest food and beverage infrastructure, the most hotel rooms and the biggest airport taxi stand I've ever seen in my life, but we don't have the venues. There are Texas high schools with bigger football stadiums than we have."
Southern Nevada's major football venue, the 40-year-old Sam Boyd Stadium, seats 36,800 and is located nearly 10 miles east of the Strip.
Plus, Las Vegas' economy would get a bigger boost out of a stadium than other cities receive, Lang added. Arenas in other regions attract mostly local traffic. Here, a stadium would bring in more tourists and boost the export economy. What could make it happen without busting public budgets? The Legislature must approve a special tax district surrounding a stadium so revenue tourists generate there stays local rather than heading to Carson City.
"The business model is straightforward. You don't need financing beyond a special taxing district," Lang said.
He also mentioned the Pac-12 college sports conference's decision to move its annual spring tournament to Las Vegas from 2013 to 2015.
"We'll have Pac-12 Weekend, packaged up with a zillion cross-sells, and before you know it, you've drained every rich alum from the Pac-12 of their resources that weekend," he said. "That's why a stadium would make a difference here."
A new hotel college at UNLV would be the second game-changer, Lang said.
UNLV's William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration shares 30-year-old Beam Hall with the College of Business.
"We have beautiful buildings on the Strip, buildings that are gleaming and gold-plated, and then you have a 1980s, Brutalist college building where it's almost hard to relate to what's on the Strip," Lang said. "The whole emergence of the modern megaresort ... beginning with The Mirage came after the hotel college was built. The facility that is training people in the practices of our dominant industry is mismatched compared to the spaces in the industry."
Lang suggested funding a new building the way UNLV's 4-year-old Greenspun Hall was financed, with a mix of about 60 percent private donations and 40 percent state money.
"We can't be careless with our hotel college. It is our leading sector," Lang said. "Most of the out-of-state and out-of-country students at UNLV are in that college. It's a magnet for out-of-state tuition, and we cannot continually skate by with a building that's below standard."
Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at email@example.com or 702-380-4512.