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Second attempt underway to build new stadium at UNLV

UNLV officials on Monday launched their attempt at building Stadium 2.0 with their new strategy firmly in place — a partnership between the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and the Las Vegas casino-hotel industry.

That partnership debuted with an 11-member stadium board stockpiled with no less than six current or former resort industry executives — plus several local lawyers and bankers — who UNLV officials hope will add the political and financial firepower necessary to construct a football stadium/events center on campus.

With glass-enclosed UNLV basketball trophies serving as the backdrop in a swanky Thomas & Mack Center meeting room, the panel held its maiden public session to determine if a stadium is needed. And if so, what should be the scope, design, cost and funding of this venue?

A previous stadium proposal — called a “Mega Events Center” — went down in flames when UNLV officials determined earlier this year that they needed to partner with Las Vegas’s entire resort industry, not just private developer Majestic Realty, to realize their dream of a campus stadium.

Of the panel’s 11 members, only Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani addressed whether there was a need for the stadium. Nearly everyone else in the room — from UNLV President Neal Smatresk to the stadium board chairman Don Snyder — appeared to be poised to build some type of venue.

“First, what is the need?” Giunchigliani said. “And if the need is proven, then you go into the planning.”

But Smatresk and others were ready to move ahead. The UNLV president said a new campus stadium can serve as a catalyst to grow the university in much the same way Thomas & Mack put UNLV on the map 30 years ago.

Smatresk envisioned the stadium as “the epicenter of campus” that would do everything from enrich campus life to grow enrollment to bolstering recruiting.

Stadium board member Cedric Crear, a Board of Regents appointee, even went as far to say that a new stadium would “revolutionize our football program. This city wants a winning, big-time football team. I don’t want to be shy about saying that.”

The board is months away from determining many variables — how many seats the stadium should hold, whether it should be covered or not, how much the cost estimate will be and potential funding.

Board chairman Snyder, UNLV’s pointman who spearheaded previous projects such as the Smith Center for the Performing Arts and the Fremont Street Experience, said UNLV officials have not advised him to cap the stadium cost.

Even though some Strip casino companies such as MGM Resorts International said the previous stadium proposal of $900 million was too much, Snyder told the Review-Journal after the two-hour meeting that there is no price ceiling.

“Why not?” Snyder said when asked if the new stadium proposal could match the price of the old one.

The meeting audience included several members of UNLV’s Development Advisory Board, which spent the last 2 1/2 years researching the stadium concept.

Development panel member Ted Quirk told the new stadium board to be careful about slashing the stadium project cost.

“The temptation is to cut out the bells and whistles. When you start cutting costs, there’s a tendency to look like all the other stadiums across the country. Then you get mediocrity and I don’t think mediocrity is acceptable in Las Vegas,” he said.

The stadium board will have a $950,000 budget to conduct a feasibility, scope, cost and funding report that needs to be submitted to the state Legislature by Sept. 30. That money is coming from slot tax revenue, said Gerry Bomotti, UNLV senior vice president for Finance and Business.

The new stadium board is the result of state legislation sponsored by Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, who made a cameo before the panel. She said Las Vegas’s resort economy is strong on the weekends, but she said any new stadium needs to be “an economic driver from Tuesday to Thursday.”

Alan Snel can be contacted at asnel@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5273. Follow @BicycleManSnel on Twitter.

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