UNLV partners with former opponents in attempt to revive stadium plan

The story so far: The University of Nevada-Las Vegas partnered with developers Majestic Realty on a proposal for a new domed 40,000-seat football stadium, which soon turned into an $800 million, 60,000-seat domed football stadium, which then became $900 million at which point casino owner MGM Resorts International (which was going to face a levy to help pay for the stadium) announced its opposition to the plan, and then UNLV, realizing who held the cards in their town, dropped Majestic like a hot rock. So what’s the plan now?

UNLV officials on Monday launched their attempt at building Stadium 2.0 with their new strategy firmly in place — a partnership between the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and the Las Vegas casino-hotel industry.

If you can’t beat ‘em, deal ‘em in.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal notes that the new partnership’s stadium board “is months away from determining many variables — how many seats the stadium should hold, whether it should be covered or not, how much the cost estimate will be and potential funding.” Also, that Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick told the panel that because Vegas already gets lots of tourists on weekends, any new stadium needs to be “an economic driver from Tuesday to Thursday.” College football stadium that draws people to town in the middle of the week — what could possibly go wrong with that?

Majestic proposes its own $770m UNLV stadium plan, because Vegas

Sad that we no longer have the crazy Seattle-Sacramento bidding war over the Kings to provide us with daily entertainment? Fear not, for there’s still the utter insanity that is Las Vegas and its umpteen stadium plans for teams that may or may not ever exist. Or rather, make that umpteen plus one:

Just two months after UNLV dumped Majestic Realty as a partner in a new stadium, Majestic is pushing an alternative that would bypass the university and instead partner with the state itself.

Craig Cavileer, Majestic’s point-man on the project, said his company will commit $385 million toward the $770 million project. In recent weeks he has been quietly lobbying lawmakers and Gov. Brian Sandoval, seeking support for a $1.50 per trip taxi fee in the Las Vegas area that would pay the state’s half of construction costs.

This article is accompanied by renderings of the proposed Majestic stadium, which seems to include the superstructure for a retractable roof of some kind, though given that it’s not even clear where the drawings came from, it’s probably best not to take them too seriously at the moment.

The Las Vegas Sun raves that the Majestic plan would be cheaper than UNLV’s plan ($770 million vs. $800-900 million), simpler (because all the money would come from Majestic and the state of Nevada, as opposed to UNLV, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and local casinos), and “fair” (because Majestic and the state would evenly split costs and profits, though it’s not entirely clear how “profits” would be determined). On the down side, state assembly leaders hate the idea, with majority leader William Horne saying that “trying to float such an endeavor at this late hour with a $1.50 cab ride fee in there has almost zero chance of happening” and calling the Majestic plan “sour grapes because they are not part of the project anymore.” Plus UNLV doesn’t want to do it.

Still, total lack of support has never been a reason for Vegas to back off of stadium plans before, so why start now? At least now we can all look forward to months and months of posturing by the two competing stadium proposals, if we’re lucky. Because when you’re talking about spending almost a billion dollars on a college football stadium, really the most important question is “Which developer should we provide with state money to help build it?”

Vegas finally kills a stadium plan, only two or three or twelve left to go

You can officially stick a fork in Chris Milam’s insane plan to build multiple stadiums and arenas near Las Vegas, which turned into an insane plan just to get the land and built who knows what, as the Bureau of Land Management has terminated the sale of 480 acres of federal land that Milam was seeking. And it only took six months after Milam backed out of his stadium plans, claiming his Chinese lenders who make surveillance equipment had nixed the deal, four months after the city of Henderson sued Milam for fraud, and two months after Milam settled the suit by passing the land purchase on to his lenders and agreeing to be banned from doing business with the city. Because, you know, you don’t want to rush into anything.

Las Vegas will now have to console itself with MGM’s arena plan, and UNLV’s football stadium plan, and probably a couple of other stadium or arena plans that I’m forgetting, maybe some of these. Because there’s nothing that the nation’s 40th largest TV market (just behind Grand Rapids-Kalamazoo!) needs more than some new sports facilities for all the major-league teams that it doesn’t have.

MGM Resorts opposes $900m UNLV stadium plan, calls it “too expensive”

Turns out there may be some opposition to creating a sales-tax kickback district for UNLV’s $800-million-wait-now-it’s-actually-$900-million football stadium-and-other-stuff plan after all: MGM Resorts International, a major casino owner in Las Vegas, now says that the UNLV Now project “has grown too expensive for our community to support,” and wants costs trimmed. This matters because the casinos are not only the 800-pound gorillas of the Vegas political sphere, they’d be asked to kick in money (as much as $125 million, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, in partnership with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority) on the grounds that a UNLV stadium would bring in new tourists. Because without a bigger college football stadium, nobody would have a reason to go to Las Vegas. Or something.

Anyway, with the Nevada state legislature about to vote on kicking back all property and sales taxes from UNLV Now to pay for construction of the project (the session just started, and runs through the end of May), this probably isn’t the best time for UNLV to have major casinos opposing the deal. Though presumably MGM would be happy to have a stadium that’s less expensive, or at least less expensive for them, so I’m sure there’s lots of fun horse-trading yet to come.

Henderson three-stadiums-or-maybe-none deal heads to court, even more hilarity ensues

I’ve been sadly neglecting Chris Milam’s insane scheme to build $2 billion worth of stadiums and arenas near Las Vegas — and in case you think that’s not enough to warrant the moniker “insane,” recall that he planned to fund this by borrowing $650 million at 20% interest from “a Chinese company that makes surveillance equipment” — especially after he declared that building that many stadiums wasn’t actually viable, but he’d be happy to use the land he was given for commercial and residential development. But the latest developments just cry out for attention:

  • The U.S. Bureau of Land Management chief who approved the sale of 480 acres of federal land to Milam for his project is business partners with a Milam consultant who “stands to make more than $1 million in a success fee if the BLM transfers the land to Milam on Wednesday,” according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. And just in case that wasn’t enough conflict of interest for you, the consultant in question, Michael Ford, also helped the city of Henderson, where the Milam megalopolis would be built, to prepare its public notice for the deal.
  • Milam, meanwhile, is currently in court defending himself against city charges that he only proposed the ridiculous sports plan as a bait and switch so he could get hold of the federal land. Nothing could be further from the truth, Milam insisted in court papers yesterday: Rather, the problem was that the Chinese spy company wouldn’t lend him his money unless he had a pro sports team, so it was the Sacramento Kings’ fault for refusing to promise to move there. (A Henderson city spokesperson replied to the Review-Journal via email that “at no time did they inform the City that financing fell through because of their failure to lure the Kings” and “Milam never informed the City that the Chinese financing had fallen through.”)

So, lotsa crazy, but no actual stadiums, not anymore. But at least Las Vegas can still look forward to its $800 million UNLV football stadium to be funded by a new sales tax district.

Report: Domed UNLV stadium best thing since sliced manna from heaven

I almost decided not to post about Friday’s approval of an $800 million, 60,000-seat domed stadium plan by University of Nevada-Las Vegas, given that it’s for college football and the proposed other uses include “the likes of an NFL exhibition game, Comic-Con and the Electric Daisy Carnival to campus.” But then this caught my eye:

The stadium could pump $393.2 million to the Las Vegas economy annually if constructed, according to an economic impact report released Friday.

$393.2 million? Annually?

The report is by sports economist Mark Rosentraub, who already had a bit of a reputation for being willing to tell stadium boosters what they want to hear, but that number stands out as above and beyond the pale even by the usual standards. Even accepting that it’s just economic “impact” (i.e., the sum total of all money changing hands in Vegas that can reasonably be said to have anything to do with the stadium), Rosentraub estimates that the stadium could host 15 events a year that would average 31,500 people … which means that that impact figure is totally reachable so long as each and every Electric Daisy Carnival patron spends $832 during their visit. (If you assume a high multiplier for re-spending of money locally, you could cut that to $500-600.) And that’s assuming that everyone attending these events would otherwise not be coming to Las Vegas at all — because after all, what else is there to do there anyway?

Anyway, while all the press coverage described Friday’s announcement as a “major hurdle,” it looks like the actual major hurdle will come in 2013, when the state legislature needs to vote on approving a special sales tax district to kick back tax money to help pay for this beast. From all accounts there isn’t very strong opposition, but no doubt economic reports like Rosentraub’s are designed to disperse any before it gets started.

Las Vegas still has more stadium and arena plans than it knows what to do with

Yesterday’s Las Vegas Sun has a rundown of the various stadium and arena proposals simmering in that city, and their current status. The summary:

  • The Cordish Companies, which signed a deal with the Las Vegas city council in 2010 to build a $412 million arena and entertainment complex, still hasn’t come up with a financing plan, and “did not respond to requests to update progress on the proposal.”
  • Caesars Entertainment has its own plan for a $500 million arena, which it wants to pay for by establishing a special taxing district with a 0.9% sales tax surcharge in a three-mile radius around the arena, and getting the taxes kicked back to pay for the new facility. A statewide referendum to approve the plan is on the November ballot, but the state supreme court is set to rule on whether the petitioning process was invalid because the petitions didn’t specify where the arena (and the tax district) would go.
  • UNLV and Majestic Realty say they’re moving ahead with their $2 billion UNLV Now project, which includes a 50,000-seat domed football stadium, student housing, and a “retail district.” UNLV property is currently exempt from sales taxes; to pay for the construction, the university wants to be allowed to levy sales taxes in the new stadium district, and keep the money itself. A bill in the state legislature to allow this is expected to be considered in early 2013.
  • Chris Milam is still pushing for his latest development plan, which would build three stadiums and an arena — plus what looks like either a tennis stadium or a chafing dish — in nearby Henderson. Milam says he will borrow $650 million at 20% interest from “a Chinese company that makes surveillance equipment,” plus Henderson would sell construction bonds, and after that it gets hazy. The Sun doesn’t say whether Milam is still looking to get property and sales taxes kicked back to help pay for his project.

Of the four, the Sun predicts that the UNLV proposal has the best chance of passage, and an accompanying editorial endorses the plan as well, writing: “The stadium would elevate the sports program, distinguish the campus and boost the Southern Nevada economy. What’s not to like?” Well, a party pooper could point out that if the UNLV development gets some students spending money in a retail strip with taxes that go to the university, instead of off-campus where their sales taxes would go to the state, that’s a public cost. But the Sun says that the UNLV plan “faces no organized opposition,” so guess no one wants to poop the party.

Majestic on $2B Vegas stadium: Read their lips, no new taxes

Majestic’s proposed 40,000-seat domed stadium and basketball arena may have died in the Nevada legislature, but as we all know, stadium plans never stay dead for long. And so we have this from today’s Las Vegas Sun:

The public-private partners behind a proposed on-campus stadium at UNLV say they are developing a plan to build it without raising taxes.

Since the Legislature this year rejected a special tax district to fund the $2 billion stadium/dormitory/retail project, university administrators and Majestic Realty Co. have been working on a financial formula and other changes to allow the project to move forward.

Craig Cavileer, president of Silverton resort and Majestic’s representative on the project, said one idea is for UNLV to issue but not underwrite bonds to pay for construction, allowing the university to avoid liability should the project fail and investors sue. Another idea is for Majestic to fund the project.

Now, that’s hand-wavy in the extreme — Majestic says it can find a way to pay for a $2 billion stadium by, um, finding a way to pay for it — but what I’m more interested in here is the headline: “Developers: A UNLV stadium could be built without raising taxes.” There are basically two promises a wannabe stadium builder can make to the public: one, “no new taxes will be used”; the other, “it won’t raid the general fund.” These are, of course, mutually contradictory: If it’s using public funds, it has to use either new tax money (which means raising taxes) or old tax money (which means taking money that was previously going to be spent on other things). But somehow you never see reporters discuss the flip side of these promises, as in “Developer promises stadium will only use existing public funds” or “Developer promises entire cost will be paid by raising taxes.”

Of course, if Majestic really can fund the entire project itself, as it alludes to, then that’s all well and good. (Though it’d still be using public land, and not paying any property taxes while using police and fire and other services that would need to be paid for somehow, which is less well and good.) But if they could build it themselves, then presumably they wouldn’t have needed to ask the legislature for the talcum powder.

Vegas sports subsidy bill killed dead

The funding bill for a Las Vegas arena, or a Las Vegas stadium, or a Las Vegas arena/stadium/floor wax was declared officially dead last night by the bill’s sponsors:

Asked if any elements of the various public financing measures presented to lawmakers would survive, former state Sen. Terry Care answered: “It’ll be the surprise of my lifetime if it does.”

Care was the chief lobbyist for Texas developer Christopher Milam, who had proposed building a $1.9 billion project including a ballpark, arena and stadium near Interstate 15 and Russell Road.

“It was a difficult bill to begin with,” Care said.

Dead, of course, is a relative term when it comes to sports subsidy bills, so it’s always possible that some of these proposals will be revived in the next legislative session. That’s not until 2013, though — Nevada legislators take alternate years off, presumably so they can spend them at the craps tables — unless the governor calls them into special session before then. Quebec, you can breathe one-third easier now.

Legislative clock running down on Vegas stadium and arena deals

It’s getting late early out there in Nevada, as the state assembly adjourns tomorrow, leaving little time to hash out the details of the complicated arena tax-increment financing bill that three developers are seeking to take advantage of (and a fourth is seeking to have amended so it can get in the running).

So far, legislators seem wary — “it is kind of hard to get all these bills like this at the last minute and often extremely difficult to get them through,” said state senator Sheila Leslie — but that’s not necessarily a major obstacle: “Typically, agreements are not made until the end,” local AFL-CIO official and former state legislator Danny Thompson told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “That is the way this place works.”

Of course, the Nevada legislature has been called into special session five times in the last six years, so as we’re seeing in Minnesota, it ain’t over even when it’s over.