CARSON CITY — Some Nevada Republicans believe Las Vegas can and should compete with Kansas City, Mo., and other potential suitors to host the 2016 Republican National Convention.
With 150,000 hotel rooms, a busy international airport and more than 3 million square feet of convention space, Las Vegas could easily handle the 50,000 attendees of the 2012 GOP convention in Tampa, Fla.
But several hurdles need to be cleared, including meeting a local fundraising commitment to the tune of tens of millions of dollars and addressing the fact that the Thomas & Mack Center is not up to snuff for the events, said Dan Schwartz, finance chairman for the Nevada State Republican Party.
“We’re exploring it,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of work. If we get it, it would be a huge deal.”
There is also the question of whether the city can convince the Republican National Committee that Las Vegas, with its reputation for gambling, drinking and adult-themed attractions, can provide the image the party is looking for in 2016, he said.
“It is a challenge, but it is also an opportunity,” Schwartz said.
Hosting the convention, an idea being pushed by state Chairman Michael McDonald, would be a great opportunity to show the nation and world there is more to Las Vegas and Nevada than the neon and slot machine clichés and perceptions held by those who don’t know the real Silver State, he said.
The idea of hosting the convention has gotten a positive reaction from members of the RNC in meetings with McDonald and from Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson, Schwartz said.
But Adelson’s support has not yet reached the point at which a financial commitment has been made, he said.
A representative for Adelson could not be reached for comment.
If state Republicans decide to move forward, a host committee would be named by September to pursue the convention, Schwartz said.
The estimated local financial commitment would be in the $55 million range, with $10 million or more coming from Adelson, he said. Other funding would come from the federal level, bringing the total financial commitment to about $125 million, Schwartz said.
But the Thomas & Mack on the UNLV campus remains a stumbling block, he said. It is inadequate in its current condition to host the premier events of a national convention, and at least $10 million probably would have to be spent to make it usable, Schwartz said. The arena has 30 luxury suites, but 80 would be needed for the convention, he said.
An alternative would be a new, $300 million arena, but there was no movement in the Nevada Legislature to pursue such a project, he said.
MGM Resorts International this year announced plans to build a privately funded, 20,000-seat indoor arena behind the New York-New York and Monte Carlo resorts.
Salt Lake City and New Orleans are also looking at seeking the convention, but Schwartz views Kansas City as the chief competitor.
Review-Journal writer Laura Myers contributed to this report. Contact Capital Bureau reporter Sean Whaley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-687-3900.