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Who’ll foot bill for UNLV stadium?

On Monday morning, a group called the UNLV College Republicans said they would forgo up to $2,000 in funds from their student government “in the spirit of shared sacrifice” amid Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposed educational budget cuts and reforms.

Today, an artist’s rendering of an ostentatious domed stadium/arena with requisite palm trees and the letters UNLV on top will be distributed during a news conference at the Silverton Casino Lodge. And those on the dais will smile for the cameras and speak of grandiose plans that cost hundreds of millions, and other people in the room will swell with pride and beat their chests. Because this will mean UNLV is one tiny step closer to getting an on-campus domed stadium/arena where many of these same people will receive a paved parking spot in return for donating to the scholarship fund. (Although from the looks of the Google map, that parking spot may be in Henderson.)

To paraphrase Steve McCroskey, the chain-smoking, glue-sniffing air traffic controller in “Airplane!” it would appear UNLV picked a bad week to announce plans for an on-campus domed stadium/arena.

Even if it’s just a public land swap with private interests, people who don’t like college football and U2 concerts and calf roping are going to complain that if the 40-acre real estate parcel on the southwest corner of campus abutting the airport is worth that much, UNLV should just sell it to the private interest and use the money to keep its biology department solvent.

As one who enjoys college football and U2 concerts and realizes that calf roping pumps millions into the local economy, far be it from me to join the complainers. But it might be prudent to unload a thimble of skepticism here, considering my file of empty promises — grandiose plans for Las Vegas arenas and stadiums yet to materialize — is thicker than the midsection of Green Bay Packers nose tackle B.J. Raji.

Let the record also show there are 64 acres upon which to tailgate and park cars at Sam Boyd Stadium, and getting in and out of the Las Vegas Bowl and a U2 concert is still a chocolate-covered mess.

Edward P. Roski Jr., who owns the Silverton and would develop the proposed 42,000-seat stadium, ranked No. 163 on Forbes magazine’s 2008 list of the 400 Richest Americans, with an approximate worth of $2.5 billion. The last time Roski emptied his pockets, they found a leviathan, two mermaids and the Edmund Fitzgerald. He’s also planning to build an NFL stadium in Los Angeles, according to published reports.

But if there’s one thing this topic has taught us, it’s that you can’t always believe published reports. Or Mayor Oscar Goodman.

Philip Anschutz, the namesake of Anschutz Entertainment Group, which owns some of the world’s most profitable sports teams, events and stadiums, ranks No. 34 on Forbes’ current list, with an estimated worth of $7 billion. In 2007, AEG topped a field of six bidders with plans to build a sports arena in Las Vegas. “We are going to be under construction within the year and we expect to open by 2010,” AEG president Tim Leiweke said then.

And I expect to divorce my wife and marry Salma Hayek by 2013.

This wasn’t another case of all hat and no cattle, because AEG has more cattle than Ben Cartwright. And yet in this sluggish economy, it couldn’t find the public assistance, sweetheart deals and divining rods that would have justified moving forward.

Before the Thomas & Mack Center is turned into a flea market, you want to believe there’s a plan for a domed stadium that doesn’t fleece the taxpayer, that will account for parking and other necessities, that won’t place people in the upper deck in the flight path of airplanes, that assures UNLV will get to keep the revenue Sam Boyd Stadium and the T&M already produce, that will preclude fans from purchasing seat licenses to watch Boise State pummel the Rebels, that guarantees UNLV will get to choose the day and time it gets pummeled by Boise State, rather than defer to Bono and the calf ropers and the Sacramento/Las Vegas Jackwagons.

You want to be assured of these things because there are entire websites — supported by facts, figures and lots of bar graphs — that confirm the foolhardiness of building and maintaining sports stadiums. This probably explains why the guys with deep pockets who always talk about building them — or moving the team to Florida — want to do it with other people’s money.

If, on the other hand, your pockets are more shallow than Paris Hilton, what you want is a perfect world and a perfect plan and a philanthropic developer with a heart the size of the Carrier Dome who is proposing a $500 million gift to the university while asking nothing in return.

In that case, even the fiscally responsible UNLV College Republicans might be interested in seats on the 40-yard line.

Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352.

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