Stadium plan coming together with no time to spare

The details of a proposed 60,000-seat domed stadium on the UNLV campus are almost settled, and they can’t come soon enough.

Drawings unveiled Friday to the Board of Regents reveal an iconic structure with unique features including a massive video board and “super suites” that seat up to 200 people.

But to make it happen, gaming companies and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority will be asked to pay about $125 million toward construction costs. Project leader Don Snyder, a former gaming executive and the current dean of UNLV’s hotel administration college, points out that the visitors authority and local resorts will be the “biggest economic beneficiaries” of the stadium because of the special events the venue would attract, filling hotel rooms and generating room tax revenues that support the authority. One study estimated a modern stadium would generate almost $400 million in new annual spending – but cost up to $900 million to build.

A precise cost estimate won’t be known until the Federal Aviation Administration approves a height limit for the dome – one that’s safe for McCarran International Airport traffic – which will dictate how far below ground the stadium’s field will sit. The cost and revenue split between UNLV and private developer Majestic Realty is being finalized. Everything should be decided by the Feb. 28 meeting of the Board of Regents, the higher education system’s governing body.

That’s almost a full month after the 2013 Legislature convenes. Lawmakers must approve a special tax district that includes the stadium site to complete its financing. The more time higher education officials need to finalize the plan, the greater the chance lawmakers won’t approve the project. A similar, smaller-scale stadium was pitched to the 2011 Legislature, but the proposal reached Carson City too late to be properly scrutinized. Lawmakers justifiably will demand no tax increases and no risk to the public purse for such a project.

The stadium would be a huge boost to our tourist economy and construction employment, not to mention the profile and campus environment of UNLV. The project known as UNLV Now eventually would include student housing and retail space. But raising $125 million from entities with their own economic challenges is no small order. Neither is winning legislative approval for a public-private partnership of this magnitude.

“There are a lot of moving parts. This is a complicated mother,” Mr. Snyder said. That might be an understatement. Much work clearly remains, and the Legislature will adjourn in less than five months. Failure this spring means waiting at least another two years for approval.

Nothing important is easy. The Legislature must make consideration of the project’s enabling legislation a priority the moment it’s ready.

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