‘Last chance’ for stadium kicks off

At lunchtime Monday, a brand-new government body reboots one of the valley’s most important economic development initiatives.

And unlike previous campaigns, this time the entire process is supposed to take place in the open.

At noon, in the Si Redd Room inside the Thomas &Mack Center, the UNLV stadium authority board meets for the first time. The board was created by the Legislature this year after the latest attempt to build a new stadium in the Las Vegas Valley — a nearly $1 billion public-private project on the UNLV campus — suffered a back-room veto at the hands of the gaming industry.

Now Nevada’s casino industry has a seat at the table. Or, more accurately, four seats at the table. The final appointments to the board were made last week. The 11-member panel includes Kim Sinatra, general counsel for Wynn Resorts; Paul Chakmak of Boyd Gaming; Rick Arpin of MGM Resorts International; and Sean McBurney of Caesars Entertainment.

Kirk Hendrick, chief legal officer for the Ultimate Fighting Championship, and Dallas Haun, president and CEO of Nevada State Bank, give the board a private-sector majority. Former gaming executive Don Snyder, UNLV’s executive dean for strategic development and the point man on this year’s failed stadium proposal, also has a seat. Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani and Regents Cedric Crear, James Dean Leavitt and Mike Wixom round out the membership.

The mix of elected officials, corporate and gaming executives and lawyers will create an interesting dynamic. What direction will the gaming representatives steer the board, considering their input will carry the most weight?

And how, exactly, will they wield that power in the open when so much of gaming’s influence normally is exercised behind closed doors?

The authority board’s task is urgent. It has less than one year to put together a report that presents a detailed stadium plan, how much it would cost and how it could be funded. That’s not a simple task, and it’s due to lawmakers by Sept. 30.

Open-air or dome? Public-private or all-public? What’s gaming’s stake? What’s UNLV’s?

A modern stadium is the missing piece in the Strip’s convention and entertainment infrastructure. MGM Resorts and AEG are building a privately funded, 20,000-seat arena behind New York-New York and the Monte Carlo, but the valley needs something bigger, a place close to the Strip that can host blockbuster concerts, mega-fights, soccer matches and football games and perhaps help keep the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas. Sam Boyd Stadium, on the valley’s eastern edge, holds less than 40,000 people and has too few amenities.

An on-campus stadium would have a transformative effect on the UNLV campus, but that’s actually a secondary consideration. The Rebel football program’s six or seven home games per year — and its recent lack of success — aren’t nearly enough to justify the construction of a new stadium. It’s all about the possibility of creating and attracting new special events and allowing existing ones to grow. It’s about filling more hotel rooms and creating more jobs, far beyond the thousands of construction workers needed to build such a stadium.

I’m still amazed Southern Nevada hasn’t figured how to get a new stadium built. It soon will have five — five! — arenas that seat at least 9,500 people within a few miles of each other, but its only stadium is a dump by 1990 standards. Tulane, Houston and Baylor are building new stadiums that are scheduled to open next year, according to a Wall Street Journal report from last week. Colorado State is raising money for a new $246 million on-campus stadium, and Arizona State soon will launch a $300 million renovation of Sun Devil Stadium. Washington, Arizona and California have upgraded their stadiums. And none of them will have the revenue-generating potential of a new UNLV stadium.

The stadium authority board is the right approach and Nevada’s best chance of coming up with a viable proposal that can win legislative approval.

“We have one last chance to get this right,” Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Dan Klaich told the Review-Journal’s editorial board in August. “I think we’ll get it right.”

And now, a follow-up on my Sept. 14 column, “Lifting Judicial Watch’s curtain.” In that piece, I exposed a Facebook page and Twitter account that claimed to be independent watchdogs of the county’s court system as vendetta-driven vehicles for a disgraced former prosecutor.

Lisa Willardson was fired from the district attorney’s office for practicing before Family Court Judge Steven Jones while having a romantic relationship with him. Jones, meanwhile, faces discipline for failing to disqualify himself from Willardson’s cases, and he has been suspended because of his indictment on federal fraud charges. Willardson used “Nevada Judicial Watch” to anonymously attack Jones’ enemies and praise his friends, all the while building a following among lawyers and elected officials.

Within the past week, the Nevada Judicial Watch website was taken down. Buh-bye. And the Twitter account hasn’t been used since I revealed the identity of its user.

Coincidentally, on Sept. 28, I finally received an email from Willardson in response to my request for comment. She announced Nevada Judicial Watch was, in fact, alive and well.

“Well you little genius (must say impressive investigative reporting – silly goose) … I’m part of the organization. I have never denied my association with this group. Plus, we are preparing to launch our first online magazine publication within the next two week – hard copy to follow!!”

Glenn Cook (gcook@reviewjournal.com) is the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s senior editorial writer. Follow him on Twitter: @Glenn_CookNV. Listen to him Mondays at 4 p.m. on “Live and Local with Kevin Wall” on KXNT News Radio, 100.5 FM, 840 AM.

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