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UNLV stadium project faces stiff opposition, loses key backer

14 February 2013

By Alan Snel

LAS VEGAS -- The University of Nevada Las Vegas effort to build a 60,000-seat domed stadium has a $360 million commitment from Majestic Realty but is facing stiff opposition from one of Las Vegas' biggest resort companies.

MGM Resorts International, which owns 10 major hotel-casinos on the Strip, earlier had pledged a $20 million donation to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas project but on Wednesday issued a statement opposing the $900 million venue.

"We cannot support the current UNLVNow concept, as it has grown too expensive for our community to support," MGM Resorts said in a statement. "We continue to support an on-campus stadium for UNLV that is appropriately configured and responsibly financed. We remain committed to working with the university and others in the community to refine an appropriate plan."

Majestic, owned by billionaire developer and Los Angeles Lakers co-owner Ed Roski, is the university's private partner on the proposed sports and entertainment "mega-events center." The stadium would be the centerpiece of UNLVNow, a far-reaching campus facelift that includes Majestic building 2,000 to 3,000 student housing units and 300,000 to 400,000 square feet of shops on the 332-acre campus.

Roski, who developed Los Angeles' Staples Center arena, has agreed to pay $360 million, or no more than 40 percent of a $900 million total expense, several sources have told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

UNLV hopes to establish a special taxing district covering the campus as a way to pay some of its share but is still searching for more public funding options and is looking at ways to trim the project's cost, said Don Snyder, the former bank and casino executive who is UNLVNow's point man.

"These projects take time. It always gets down to funding, and we're taking a hard look at the cost," said Snyder, who had a similar role in the public-private Fremont Street Experience and Smith Center projects. "The (proposed tax increment financing district) is not going to provide as much funding as anticipated. That's why we're challenged on the funding side."

With no final funding plan in place, UNLV has canceled a Feb. 22 workshop at which the Board of Regents was to discuss the project, Snyder said. A regents vote scheduled for the end of the month has been shelved, Snyder said.

"It's a big project. It's a complex project," Snyder said. "It's more important to get it right than to be tied to a certain date or time line."

Snyder said it's premature to settle on a $900 million project cost because UNLV officials continue to evaluate parking and other infrastructure expenses and could cut the price by tens of millions of dollars. But Snyder said he is comfortable with the 40 percent-60 percent private-public split, noting other major campus facilities were built in the same way.

"It's the right dimensions to the overall project," Snyder said.

UNLV officials have said they would ask the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and the major resort companies to donate $125 million for UNLVNow, reasoning the stadium would boost tourism associated with major concerts and other events.

MGM Resorts, which is working on plans for its own arena project, is the only company to flatly reject the project. But others have expressed concern at the project's cost, Snyder said. He acknowledged the resorts were not keen on a new room fee, one of several funding sources considered by university officials.

In response to the MGM Resorts statement, Snyder noted that the company's "early support for this project clearly put positive energy behind the effort - something which is greatly valued and appreciated on campus.

"Their recent input into the configuration and financing is an important part of our team's effort to define the optimum scale, scope and funding for this project to meet the needs of both the university and the community at large," Snyder said. "This input is part of our effort to talk with many different stakeholders to ensure that we best satisfy our collective needs."

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority has said it wants more information on costs and revenue sources before it takes a position. The authority attracts tourists to Las Vegas with a $290 million annual budget.

"There are more questions than information at this stage," the authority said in a statement Wednesday. "Ultimately, questions about costs, budget and revenue sources need to be determined by the Board of Regents."

The Nevada Resort Association, which represents major resort, hotel and casino properties, generally supports the stadium concept but also wants more details, said Virginia Valentine, the group's president.

Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins, who is also chairman of the authority board, said he wants to hear what casinos have to say before he offers an opinion.

At a recent meeting, Chuck Bowling, an authority board member and president of MGM Resorts' Mandalay Bay, said the authority's priority should be a proposed major renovation of the Las Vegas Convention Center, which it operates.

The authority board members might get some stadium funding answers next month. Snyder said he hopes to appear before the board pending the project's cost and financing review.


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Alan Snel
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