Getting people behind a shiny new stadium is easy. Paying for it isn’t.
UNLV’s campus improvement board finally gets to the politically perilous part of its mission Thursday, when its stadium consultant presents potential funding options for the 50,000-seat project.
We know the price tag is estimated at $490 million for an open-air stadium, $514 million for an open stadium with a shading system, $664 million for a domed stadium and $714 million for a retractable-roof venue. But we don’t know how the costs of any one of those projects might be split between university donors, taxpayers and the private sector, and we don’t know what kind of tax increase might win the recommendation of the board.
For that matter, we no longer know exactly where the stadium might be built. The university had to scrap a Swenson Street site on the west side of the campus because the height of the project posed too many problems for McCarran International Airport traffic. Now the stadium could be built next to the Thomas &Mack Center or off campus at Tropicana Avenue and Koval Lane.
Deciding where to build the stadium will be easy compared with the funding question. Texas-based Conventions, Sports &Leisure International will “review all possible tax and revenue sources,” company principal Bill Rhoda told the Review-Journal’s Alan Snel. That means, at a minimum, discussions on property taxes, sales taxes, hotel room taxes, rental car taxes and other options.
The city badly needs a new stadium to replace the aging Sam Boyd Stadium on the valley’s eastern edge. That facility is too dated and too remote to attract the kinds of events that would grow the tourism economy and bring new visitors here. The UNLV campus is close enough to the resort corridor to provide an adequate location.
If taxpayers are asked to pay part or most of the cost of a stadium, it won’t be enough to pitch the economic impact of new tourism infrastructure. It will be important to demonstrate that UNLV, a public university, gets a cut of the stadium revenue while also being protected against potential cost overruns. And even that might not be enough to win the support of two-thirds of the Nevada Legislature. The stadium board’s recommendations are due to lawmakers by Oct. 1. That’s more than a month before the general election, which assures that any stadium funding plan becomes a campaign issue alongside improved spending on public schools and mental health treatment.
Here comes the hard part.