Deadline nears for committee discussing tourism, stadium

Less than a month before the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee is due to make a series of recommendations to Gov. Brian Sandoval, things are about as you would expect from anyone who’s had a big deadline staring them in the face.

There is no panic going into Monday’s special meeting at UNLV. But there also isn’t much confidence that everything will get done by July 28, the date of the last scheduled meeting of the 11-member committee charged with delivering legislative recommendations to enhance Southern Nevada’s tourism economy.

Committee members began the process 11 months ago with a plan to review needs for an expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center, the construction of a stadium to host events too big for any existing arena and transportation amenities to better serve the growing number of Las Vegas visitors.

The committee is ready to recommend the oversight and financing of a $1.4 billion convention center expansion and improvement plan, which is expected to be wrapped up Monday.

And last month, the committee recommended the Legislature fund a study to determine the feasibility of building a jet fuel pipeline to McCarran International Airport.

But that’s it.

STADIUM ISSUE AT THE FORE

In recent months, the stadium issue has consumed most of the committee’s time, with transportation recommendations pushed to the back burner.

While consideration of a stadium was on the agenda from the panel’s first day, the issue heated up in January when Las Vegas Sands Corp. and Majestic Realty unveiled a proposal for a 65,000-seat domed stadium on 42 acres at Tropicana Avenue and Koval Lane with a pitch that included $750 million in public funding as part of a public-private partnership.

The icing on the cake: The NFL’s Oakland Raiders, frustrated by their inability to get a new stadium built in Oakland, California, began testing the waters of relocation and found a potential new home in Las Vegas.

Once the Raiders entered the picture, the tone of the stadium debate changed, mainly because the process itself is complicated, committee members are divided on the amount of public funding in any potential project and key variables keep changing.

The latest change involves the proposed stadium site. The Tropicana-Koval site, known by committee members as “Trop 42,” has all but been stricken from the list of potential locations because it’s too close to the north end of two parallel runways at McCarran.

UNLV representatives have always liked Trop 42 because of its proximity to campus. But a June 29 letter from Southwest Airlines warned the site might not work because a stadium there would be a distraction to pilots during takeoffs and landings. Southwest urged consideration of an alternative location.

It wasn’t the first time Trop 42 was put on notice. Committee members have been skittish about the site since Clark County Aviation Director Rosemary Vassiliadis raised the possibility of the Federal Aviation Administration cutting capacity at McCarran if a stadium was built near the end of the runways.

Other potential sites have shortcomings.

VARYING SITES ON THE LIST

Committee members have discussed other sites:

■ A new location that might be brought to the floor Monday is a site on the UNLV campus, just northwest of the Thomas &Mack Center. When UNLV vetted potential stadium sites three years ago, a campus master plan update offered a stadium location just north of Harmon Avenue and northwest of the Thomas &Mack. A Federal Aviation Administration review scratched that site as a potential aviation hazard, but the secondary site closer to the arena has potential because it’s farther from the runway centerlines. That site hasn’t been reviewed by the FAA.

■ Another new prospective location, the Wild Wild West Gambling Hall &Hotel and its truck stop plaza, on West Tropicana about a half-mile west of Interstate 15, came to light Thursday. Owned by Red Rock Resorts, the site of more than 100 acres is a compilation of properties acquired by Station Casinos since 1998.

■ The former Riviera site and an adjacent parking lot have about 46.4 acres. But that’s where the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority wants to build its convention center expansion. There’s been no indication committee members have reviewed facilities in Indianapolis, home of Lucas Oil Stadium and the Indianapolis Colts, which share space with the Indiana Convention Center. The stadium there adjoins meeting rooms and exhibit halls in the same structure. Houston has a larger version of a stadium-convention center model, and San Diego tourism leaders are exploring a similar option to house the San Diego Chargers.

■ The Rock in Rio festival grounds site, about 33 acres at Sahara Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard, might be too small for a stadium and parking. The site also would require hundreds of thousands of dollars in infrastructure improvements. Representatives of MGM Resorts International say they have had two exploratory meetings about using the site.

■ Cashman Center in downtown Las Vegas has plenty of room and parking and Mayor Carolyn Goodman has been an enthusiastic booster of the site, but it’s far from the Strip, UNLV and McCarran.

Representatives of the stadium developers say no other secondary sites are being explored. But there’s also disagreement within the committee on whether a site even has to be a part of the recommendation. Hill has suggested that finalizing the site details could become the responsibility of a stadium authority board that would be formed to oversee the operations and financing of the project. But some committee members want the site to be a part of their consideration.

TAX DOLLARS AT ISSUE

In addition to site selection, a bigger controversy continues to be the level of supporting tax dollars to be used.

Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, who isn’t a member of the committee, weighed in with a letter objecting to the use of any room-tax dollars for stadium construction.

At June’s committee meeting, Hill brought a proposal to reduce the public tax money commitment from $750 million to $550 million — a plan that received a frosty response from the development partners.

More discussion is expected on the stadium Monday, but a conversation about transportation issues isn’t on the agenda.

The biggest transportation element to emerge from committee discussions came in April when Clark County officials unveiled a plan for elevated expressways to move traffic between McCarran and the Strip. Critics fear those plans would slow efforts to build what they think the Strip really needs — a light-rail system. Urban planners also have criticized elevated expressways as outmoded solutions to transportation problems. Transportation experts have said finding a site may be necessary before transportation recommendations are made.

Will Hill and the committee be able to bring their recommendations to the finish line by July 28?

Hill said this month it’s too early to discuss whether he would request an extension of the deadline from the governor, and a spokeswoman for the governor echoed those sentiments in an email.

Monday’s meeting begins at 8 a.m., at the Stan Fulton Building at Flamingo Road and Swenson Street.

The Review-Journal is owned by a limited liability corporation owned by the family of Sands chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Find him on Twitter: @RickVelotta

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