UNLV drops private partner for stadium project

UNLV made a radical move Wednesday in its bid to build a 60,000-seat domed stadium by dumping its deep-pocket private partner, Majestic Realty.

The University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ decision came as a major surprise because Majestic Realty, owned by California billionaire developer Ed Roski, had committed $360 million to the stadium project, which was estimated at $800 million to $900 million. UNLV had dubbed the stadium a “mega-events center” and designated it as the centerpiece of UNLVNow, a sweeping campus face-lift.

Don Snyder, UNLV’s hotel college dean and stadium point man, said the university needed to drop Majestic because the private developer made it too difficult to win support from the Las Vegas resort industry.

“Having a third party was going to be a challenge,” Snyder told the Review-Journal. “Having a private developer in the middle created confusion and angst for the stakeholders as far as what they would get out of the deal.”

Snyder, who was the point man on the Fremont Street Experience and The Smith Center for the Performing Arts, said UNLV will have “more flexibility in regard to financing” the stadium project with Majestic not involved.

Majestic had an exclusive agreement with UNLV that was scheduled to expire on Sept. 30, Snyder said. With Wednesday’s 60-day notice, Majestic will be out of the mix effective May 27.

UNLV’s decision means the demise of Majestic’s plan to build a new student village on the UNLV campus, which was to include 2,000 to 3,000 student housing units and 300,000 to 400,000 square-feet of retail space.

Craig Cavileer, president of the Silverton and Majestic’s point man on this project, said he was surprised, disappointed and perplexed by UNLV’s decision.

Majestic spent “several million dollars” since October 2010 on the UNLVNow plan, which included hiring a prominent California sports architect to design the stadium.

“We put our heart and soul and capital into this,” Cavileer said.

“We’re disappointed that we won’t be side-by-side in pursuing this project, and we’re perplexed at the rationale,” he said Wednesday evening. “We have not received an answer. We all knew this project was going to be difficult. I hope the university can find a way to get it done.”

Just this month, Snyder and Cavileer attended a Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority board meeting at which Snyder gave a brief update on the project. There was no sign then UNLV was going to sideline Majestic and forego Roski’s financial clout.

Roski, owner of the Silverton resort, developed the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles.

Snyder said he could understand why Cavileer would be disappointed. Cavileer had attended many meetings with Snyder in hopes of selling the project to Las Vegas’s hotel-casino leaders.

“He had a lot of emotional equity in the project,” Snyder said.

UNLV has faced major stadium funding hurdles in recent months. MGM Resorts International, which owns 10 hotel-casinos on the Strip, six weeks ago said it would not support the stadium concept because “it has grown too expensive for our community to support.”

MGM later unveiled plans to build a 20,000-seat arena with national developer AEG on land behind the Monte Carlo and New York-New York. MGM plans to break ground in late 2013; construction is to take 24 to 30 months.

MGM spokesman Gordon Absher said the resort company had no comment regarding UNLV’s broken ties to Majestic.

The LVCVA was lukewarm on the UNLV stadium proposal, saying last month, “There are more questions than information at this point.”

UNLV has floated the idea of asking the tourism authority and the resort industry for $125 million toward the mega-events center, reasoning the project would be an economic boon for the hotels.

Even LVCVA board member Cam Walker of Boulder City told Snyder at the March 12 board meeting that UNLV should contribute more to the project besides providing the land for the stadium.

In response to the opposition, university officials are looking at reducing the project’s scope and cutting costs. Discussions have included eliminating parking garages in favor of shuttle buses from remote lots.

UNLV officials are lobbying state lawmakers to adopt a special tax district that would be limited to the university campus and would collect money on retail sales to help pay for the stadium.

UNLV looked at a variety of other funding methods such as a hotel room fee and rental car charge but have officially asked the Legislature for only the tax increment district.

Contact reporter Alan Snel at asnel@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5273.