UNLVNow is all about later

In the months before the start of the 2013 Legislature, there appeared to be some political momentum behind a plan to build a domed stadium — described by its backers as a “mega-events center” — on the University of Nevada, Las Vegas campus. Legislation to create a special taxing district promised to be one of the more important bills of the year.

An architect had created a stunning vision of the 60,000-seat venue. A private development partner, Majestic Realty, had committed $360 million to the stadium and a larger campus reconstruction, estimated to cost at least $900 million. There would be $159 million in parking improvements, new dorms, a campus retail village, and new, relocated stadiums for the Rebel baseball, softball, soccer and track teams.

Then, about a month into the legislative session, a stadium plan more than two years in the making was back at the drawing board. The Strip’s gaming giants were not on board. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority was not on board. It was disclosed that more private-sector money and tax dollars would be needed to complete the project. A hotel room tax increase was suggested. Majestic Realty was shown the door, despite millions of dollars invested in planning. Don Snyder, the former gaming executive and hotel college dean who’s spearheading the project, hit the reset button to come up with a financing model that would win the support of the gaming industry.

Today the UNLVNow project is all about later. It’s in the background in Carson City. Assembly Bill 335, which would create a campus tax district and improvement authority board — allowing the campus to retain tax dollars generated by the project — has been declared exempt from the Legislature’s bill passage deadlines, giving it a better chance at passage It’s clear the legislation is needed to move the re-envisioned project forward.

“The next 18 months is going to be a critical period to step back and define what this project will be,” Mr. Snyder told the Board of Regents last week. If AB 335 passes and a nine-member authority board is seated by Oct. 1, only then would a new stadium concept, with cost and funding proposals, take shape.

The taxing district isn’t nearly enough to pay for a domed stadium. Majestic Realty representative Craig Cavileer, president of the Silverton, estimated it might eventually generate $7 million to $8 million per year, enough to bond about $60 million in construction costs.

The stadium is an important project for Las Vegas because it could help the city expand the number and kinds of special events that fill hotel rooms with visitors. Sam Boyd Stadium is too old and too far from the Strip to play that kind of role. It will be years before UNLV will again have a working plan for such a stadium, but AB 335 will help the university get there. The Legislature should approve it.