The UNLV campus is going to grow by 42 acres and gain enough ground for a potential new football stadium.
The state Board of Regents voted Friday to allow UNLV officials to move ahead with the purchase of the 42-acre parcel between the campus and the Strip for $50 million.
"It's the biggest (land deal) since the '60s," Gerry Bomotti, chief financial officer for the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, told the Review-Journal after the 13-member panel unanimously approved the land deal.
UNLV officials, led by President Len Jessup, said the land would be developed as either a "campus village" or a stadium site.
Bomotti's presentation to the regents downplayed the stadium option, saying, "I wouldn't put money on it."
Bomotti's comments were consistent with UNLV's political strategy of stressing the need for the land at the northeast corner of Tropicana Avenue and Koval Lane across from McCarran International Airport whether a stadium is built or not. Bomotti said UNLV needs room for graduate, clinical outreach and professional programs.
UNLV is acquiring the property from Wells Fargo, which took the site after a proposed development was shelved. "This is historic," Regent James Dean Leavitt said during the meeting at the UNLV student union. "The time is now."
UNLV will spend $3.3 million per year for 30 years to pay off the $50 million, plus interest. The deal will close by the end of the month, and UNLV officials will return to the board in March to present a detailed funding plan.
The board may have unanimously endorsed the land deal, but Chairman Rick Trachok said he initially planned otherwise. But he said he changed his mind after hearing many public comments from earlier speakers such as former regent Sig Rogich, who argued the landlocked, land-challenged campus needs it.
Regent Allison Stephens also expressed concern about Jessup speaking in "broad generalities" about the land's use without a plan for the university reaching top-tier status.
The university wants to assemble a total of 80 acres fronting Tropicana, combining its new 42 acres and 38 acres Clark County owns between the site and Thomas & Mack Center. Restaurants and retail stores fronting Tropicana would generate revenue and also spruce up the appearance of the campus there.
Prospects for a stadium remain unclear.
UNLV successfully lobbied the Legislature to create an 11-member stadium panel that includes representatives from major hotel-casino companies such as MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment to study the issue. In 2014, that committee recommended a 45,000-seat open-air stadium with shading technology similar to Baylor University's stadium.
But UNLV officials and Regent Leavitt want a stadium that is enclosed and big enough to hold 55,000-60,000 people, envisioning the venue to function as a neutral sports and entertainment facility in much the way Thomas & Mack does for Southern Nevada.
The university's point man on the stadium, Don Snyder, who was the former acting UNLV president, now envisions UNLV working with a new gubernatorial tourism infrastructure to try and realize the domed stadium. UNLV also wants the Las Vegas area tourism and hotel-casino industries to pitch in and help fund any new stadium.
"The Board (of Regents) needed to know that the university was serious about both (stadium and campus village) options," Snyder said. "I'm personally tied to the stadium because I have an investment (of time) in it."
But Snyder's contract with UNLV expires at the end of the month, and it's unclear how the university would pay for a stadium. The current venue, Sam Boyd Stadium, is eight miles from campus and seats less than 40,000. UNLV added a new video board and turf there this year.
For now, UNLV is just happy to have room to grow.
After listening to Bomotti downplay the odds for a new stadium, UNLV Athletic Director Tina Kunzer-Murphy said, "That's fine. Let's get the acres."