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Rural, Northern Nevadans see pros, cons of Raiders Stadium in Las Vegas

RENO — When it comes to the debate over a $1.9 billion domed football stadium, rural and Northern Nevada tourism leaders aren’t much different from their counterparts in Southern Nevada.

They love the idea of having a major-league sports team to support but hate the thought of the public investing $750 million to help pay for it.

But at least one Reno resident who lived in Phoenix and Minneapolis when those cities went through their efforts to build new stadiums says the return is well worth the public investment.

“It’s funny, when things began, there were lots of people against the stadiums,” said Reno resident Angela Wisely, who was promoting downtown Reno’s Whitney Park Hotel at the two-day Nevada Governor’s Global Tourism Summit, which wrapped up Wednesday.

“I’ve been through preparing for two Super Bowl games, one each in Minneapolis and Phoenix, and it’s hard to find anyone who wasn’t supportive of that. And it’s not just Super Bowl Sunday. There are events the whole week leading up to the game that brought people to town.”

“People look back it and say they were glad they made the effort” to support the development efforts, she said.

Wisely said football generates a wholesome family vibe, and having the facility creates the opportunity for more events. In Minneapolis, she said, the city now has an international soccer competition every year and events like monster truck rallies draw large audiences that also spend money in restaurants and stores nearby.

Developers of the Las Vegas project have said they need to stage 46 events per year to generate enough incremental visitation to pay for the stadium and provide an economic benefit.

The Las Vegas effort is being led by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson, who has pledged $650 million to the project and will cover any cost overruns, while the Oakland Raiders have agreed to put in $500 million in seat licensing and a loan from the NFL.

But not everybody was supportive, and they bring the same arguments that critics raised in public comments aired before the state Senate prior to approving legislation to finance the stadium and $1.4 billion in Las Vegas Convention Center improvements.

“I would love to see major league sports in our state,” said Kurt Hoge of Reno-based Renotype, an exhibitor at the tourism summit. “I just don’t want to see tax dollars used to fund it, especially when there are billionaires making money off it.”

Hoge isn’t swayed by the claim that the developers don’t stand to make much return on investment. He was a photographer who worked on the University of Nevada’s Sagebrush student newspaper with the newspaper’s sports editor, Julia Ratti.

Ratti, a new appointee to the Senate, was among the six senators who voted against Senate Bill 1. The bill received the supermajority support it needed to be passed on to the Nevada Assembly, which is expected to take up debate Thursday and Friday.

“I’m proud of the way Julia addressed the issue,” Hoge said, “and I think she expressed the way a lot of Northern Nevada residents feel about it.”

Tom Lester, the tourism and convention manager for the Elko Convention and Visitors Authority, said even though Elko is a seven-hour car ride from Las Vegas, he’s supportive of the stadium plan because of the additional visitation to the state the stadium is likely to generate.

“It’s probably not going to affect us greatly, but I feel anything coming into the state that will generate additional room nights and fill hotel rooms is a positive for the state,” Lester said.

But he also acknowledged that there are two sides to every story and the presence of some hard-core Raiders fans could bring an undesirable element to the state on game days.

Lester said he travels to Las Vegas about three times a year to make sales calls and for his own personal enjoyment.

“It’ll be nice to be able to support a Nevada team,” he said.

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson.

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

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