The first meeting of UNLV’s stadium authority board left no doubt that, less than one year from now, the panel would recommend building a new venue for sports, concerts and special events capable of drawing tens of thousands of fans.
The question is whether the board can put together a plan capable of winning the support of the Legislature and the public.
The authority board emerged from the ashes of UNLV’s previous stadium proposal, a $900 million public-private partnership with Majestic Reality that was torched by the gaming industry. Instead of enabling the construction of an on-campus stadium, this year the Legislature created a stadium district and a board to determine the project’s scope and cost, and to recommend funding options.
It’s no coincidence that the 11-member panel includes six current or former gaming executives. The surest way for a project to win gaming’s endorsement is to give the industry a powerful voice in shaping the plan.
Casino companies certainly would benefit from having a modern stadium in close proximity to the Strip. UNLV’s off-campus Sam Boyd Stadium is hopelessly outdated and inconveniently located, offering limited appeal for big concerts and special events. An on-campus stadium just a couple of miles from megaresorts would allow entertainment promoters to create new events or grow existing ones, attract more visitors and generate job-creating economic activity.
The benefits to the university would be tremendous. A stadium would attract huge numbers of visitors to the campus year-round, elevating the profile of the institution. It would spur investment around the entire university area. UNLV’s football program certainly would benefit, but the Rebels’ home games would be a tiny part of the stadium’s events schedule.
Monday’s board meeting at the Thomas &Mack Center showed clear support for a stadium. So who pays for it, and who gets a stake in the project? What role will gaming companies have in funding it? This project won’t move forward without a private funding component. On Wednesday, UNLV announced a $500 million capital campaign to help fund the stadium and a medical school. It’s a good start.
If the board recommends taxing local residents and visitors to pay some of the project’s cost, voters will be skeptical to say the least — and they won’t be afraid to let lawmakers know their opposition. The only way the public might be persuaded to support higher taxes for a stadium is to give them a stake. A share of stadium revenues must stay on campus, whether it’s for scholarships, facility funding or athletic operations.
If the public pays, the public should own it.