UNLV football getting taste of life with Las Vegas stadium

The UNLV football team has gotten a taste of what life could be like once they’re playing in the new Las Vegas stadium.

The UNLV Athletic Department got a call from the University of California, Berkeley wanting to develop a home-and-home football series with the Golden Bears of the Pac-12 Conference.

And they want to be the first opponent UNLV plays once the Rebels move into the stadium for its 2020 football season.

“They literally want to be the first game in the stadium,” University President Len Jessup said in a recent interview about the status of a joint-use agreement with the Oakland Raiders on the stadium the team is building on 63 acres at Interstate 15 and Russell Road.

“We didn’t get those kinds of offers from Pac-12 schools for Sam Boyd Stadium,” Jessup said. “That’s a function of the new stadium.”

While most of the focus on the site, where ground was broken Nov. 13, has been on the Raiders, UNLV’s use of the $1.9 billion, 65,000-seat domed stadium was one of the primary reasons the Nevada Legislature in a special session in October 2016 approved a $750 million public contribution toward construction costs.

Regional benefits

Jessup sees the potential of the stadium not only for UNLV, but for all of Southern Nevada. For UNLV, it’s the vision of someday being bumped up to a top-tier athletic conference that will bring additional notoriety to the university.

“That’s just one example where it’s not even built yet and it’s already influencing the way Pac-12 schools are viewing UNLV even without the stadium being here,” Jessup said. “You can extrapolate from that and you can see what the effect is going to have on the entire city with the different kinds of events it’s going to draw, how people will view us differently as a global city with international soccer and things like that. It’s going to be really exciting to see how this unfolds.”

But for now, those are just dreams of what could be. Right now, there’s still work to be done to bring the joint-use agreement to the Las Vegas Stadium Authority in conformance with Senate Bill 1, the legislation authorizing the public’s contribution to the project.

Jessup said there were a number of “very lengthy” and “productive discussions” with the Raiders on the joint-use agreement.

“I think that we’re very close. The process has gone well, it’s been productive, Jessup said.

Many meetings

Jessup said the UNLV team has met face to face with their Raiders counterparts, team President Marc Badain and Dan Ventrelle, executive vice president and general counsel, “about a half-dozen times” and has had numerous conference calls and in-house conversations about the agreement that will spell out details of the ongoing relationship between the Raiders and the Rebels on access to the stadium and the university’s ability to make it look like a UNLV venue.

Work began last summer and isn’t expected to be completed until January or February.

“Everybody’s busy,” Jessup said of the current timeline. “They’ve got so many other things they need to get done. And they’re in the middle of a season and they’re managing a team and renegotiating contracts. … I think it’s just that there’s a lot of work to be done here in a short amount of time.”

Asked about what issues have been completed and what terms remain to be negotiated, Jessup was hesitant to provide details. But he did outline the approval process that lies ahead with the Nevada Board of Regents.

“I really don’t want to say what specifically are the remaining items because I don’t think that would be fair to anybody involved in the negotiating on this thing at this point,” Jessup said.

One area that isn’t a part of the conversation — the use of UNLV parking lots for fans on game days.

Two-step approval

“I also have to say that once we’re done with this part of the process, we’re not done, because ultimately, it would then go to our regents. Thom (Reilly) has committed to the regents that that would be in a two-step fashion, one meeting where we would report out on everything and they would get to digest it and react to it, and then they’d get a little bit of time and then we’d come back in a second meeting with any revisions that are necessary to be able to vote on it,” he said.

Jessup said there haven’t been any conversations about the Raiders participating in the regent meetings.

“I don’t know that we’ll need them at that point to do that, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the Raiders volunteered to want to do that and be present at the meeting because they’ve been helpful every step of the way,” he said.

Once the regents give the agreement its stamp of approval, it would go to the Stadium Authority. Final approval of the joint-use agreement by the authority is essential to completing the final development agreement that allows the Raiders to tap the $750 million in public funds.

Access to $750 million

The Raiders must also put in the first $100 million in construction before they can access the public money, which comes in the form of tax-exempt bonds to be paid off through a 0.88-percentage-point increase in Clark County’s hotel room tax. That room-tax increase has raised $29.3 million between March and September.

Jessup said he saw Badain and Raiders owner Mark Davis at the groundbreaking, which he described as “an incredible first-class event” and that everyone is eager to take the next step.

“I spoke with Marc Badain and with Mark Davis at the groundbreaking and we all agreed that we’re almost there,” Jessup said. “We’re just about to get this thing done, let’s go, let’s finish it off and then move on to building a stadium, designing it together and let’s figure out what our locker room is going to look like,” he said.

“The relationships are very positive, very collegial and I think we’re very close.”

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

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