Stadium plan: If taxpayers don't get whacked, it has potential

UNLV's plans for a half-billion-dollar, on-campus domed stadium go far beyond football.

The Rebel football program certainly would benefit from playing in a modern facility in a more central location -- uninspiring, isolated Sam Boyd Stadium has become a perfect metaphor for the struggling team. But it would be impossible to justify such a huge expense, regardless of the funding mechanism, to accommodate just five to seven dates every fall, even if Southern Nevadans were clamoring for tickets to Rebel football games.

No, a plan of this magnitude will pencil out only if the stadium can attract other major events, year-round -- something Las Vegas does quite well.

Conveniently, the UNLV campus is just a few blocks east of the Strip. For this reason, UNLV President Neal Smatresk describes the venue, which as currently envisioned would seat up to 60,000 people, as a "mega-events center." In a Thursday briefing to higher education system leaders and the Board of Regents, Mr. Smatresk said the dome would have an annual regional economic impact of at least $500 million, double the benefit of the university's Thomas & Mack Center.

The stadium, which would be large enough to stage soccer games, is the first phase of a project initially proposed a year ago. The venue would be built at the west end of campus, near Harmon Avenue and Swenson Street.

UNLV and Majestic Realty would fund the project with a stadium tax district, which would allow the university to keep any taxes generated by the property and surrounding structures. They'll ask the 2013 Legislature to create that district, which wouldn't create new taxes or raise existing ones. Donors from the private sector would be sought as well.

One notable change in the project: Its evolution from a smaller, more flexible stadium-arena hybrid to a traditional stadium.

This accomplishes a number of things. First, it greatly reduces concerns that the venue would compete with arenas built with private-sector dollars by Strip resorts. Second, it avoids duplicating a proposed nonprofit arena on the Strip that voters might be asked to approve in November.

But most importantly, it could provide in as soon as five years a critical piece of infrastructure that would allow Las Vegas to compete for even more conventions, sporting events and concerts and attract more visitors. It has the potential to be a job multiplier on steroids.

Of course, the devil is in the details. Enabling legislation would have to be carefully worded and scrutinized to make sure taxpayers aren't impaled.

That's all the more reason for the bill to be introduced early in 2013 and considered well ahead of the biennial budget shenanigans. Something that grows the economy and creates jobs shouldn't be held hostage by partisan politics.