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April 25, 2015

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UNLV president: On-campus stadium looking like a reality, could be filled with more events than UNLV football

President weighs in on progress of development, which is one of four sports-related stadium proposals with legs in Southern Nevada


Leila Navidi

UNLV President Neal Smatresk listens the national anthem during the Premier UNLV event, an annual campus tradition that kicks off the fall semester in Las Vegas, Thursday, Sept. 1, 2011.

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UNLV Arena Project

He built LA's Staple Center now Ed Roski has his sights set on UNLV for his newest arena project. What does it mean for Las Vegas? Watch and find out.

UNLV President Neal Smatresk is happy to point out that he’s a scientist by trade, not a stadium builder. This is new territory for him, something he’s had to learn on the fly as the UNLV Now project — a mega-events center including a stadium and retail district — moves forward with haste.

An on-campus football stadium has been the stuff of stories and jokes at UNLV for several years. But now — though this has been said before — it appears very likely that the Rebels will have a new home in the not-too-distant future, perhaps by the time today’s high school seniors graduate from college.

The project is a partnership between the university and Majestic Realty Co., which built the Staples Center in Los Angeles, among other projects. This is one of many sports-related construction proposals being discussed in the Las Vegas Valley, but this one has a different feel. This one seems imminent.

And it’s big. The Sun has reported the project could cost as much as $2 billion, but officials are hesitant to throw out any more numbers right now.

Smatresk has kept his wits about this behemoth idea by relating it to the world he knows best. Science is a series of checkpoints, a process with multiple pieces moving simultaneously but at different speeds, each one required to make the other work. Simplifying that requires focusing on finishing each one as it comes up and then moving on to the next.

Same thing with UNLV Now. It’s enormous, both in scope and potential physical size, so focus by ticking each checkmark off the list, chopping down the tree one controlled swing at a time.

That’s what Smatresk and the UNLV Now team — UNLV officials, Majestic reps and outside consultants — have been doing, and it has them in position to dramatically change the UNLV campus and the broader community.

Is this project what the city and university really need? Can it survive when many other stadium and arena proposals in this city have failed?

“My belief may not be strong enough,” Smatresk said, “but I’m pretty sure I’m not wrong.”

Smatresk spoke at length about the project in a recent interview, which has been edited for clarity.

On the goal of the project ...

UNLV wants to be the state university in this state. We want to be the place you think of. We want to be a first-choice institution. That’s our aspiration. ... Sports are the front porch for the university. Come on up to the front porch, and we hope you walk in the door and get more involved. Lots of our foundation donors and people on our foundation board — and it’s a list of the who’s who in Nevada — many times they came into the university through our athletics programs. We know athletics are a draw, and we want people to be engaged in the whole university, not just in the athletics portion. But by building that attractive front porch and having people involved, we know we’ll get more of that engagement.

Click to enlarge photo

Renderings of a proposed stadium on the UNLV campus.

On benefits of the project for UNLV ...

Three ways you can see benefits: gifts given directly into endowing accounts, direct financial benefits of a good business plan that lessens the state’s obligation to fund the athletics program and puts that money back into academics, and indirect benefits to student and student-athlete recruiting. I think that’s all good.

On the benefits for other entities ...

Every year we pass on really big events that could bring a ton of money into town because we don’t have a covered venue that seats 50,000-60,000 people. We’re the biggest convention city in the world, yet we have to pass on things like the Republican and Democratic national conventions or exhibition football games. This location benefits the Strip, the campus and the university.

On the additional money this project would bring to town ...

Our economy has a hole in it from a conventioneering and export economy perspective. Madonna’s world tour can come here, but it can’t seat more than 18,000 people. How much more money do you make, not just on the event, but in town when you put 50,000 or 60,000 people in seats? A rough cut of the economic analysis suggests that with between 15 and 20 mega-events a year — because UNLV football isn’t going to drive a large economy for our city, yet — we could generate in raw export dollars, not economic impact but sheer dollars, about $500 million of new money, money not replicated from any current activity or any arena. That’s a big number. The tax that it generates is enormous.

On how the arena proposal would affect academics ...

We’re not taking state funds to do this. We’re not taking tuition to do this. That money is inviolable. That money goes to our educational programs, period. ... Your first pledge has to be you’ll never hurt academics when you do this, you won’t hurt your efforts to support the state or to get people degrees and give them a great education. Knowing that, then the question is, “Could that money have been used for academics?” And the answer is, “Not really.” People who are going to give to this are going to give both out of a sense of pride in community and a sense of what I would call enlightened self-interest or venture philanthropy. ... Is that money going to come here in giant chunks just to support the university? I don’t know. I’d love to think it would, but I kind of think this project is the thing that brings it, and I think most people would agree with that.

On the timeline ...

In my dream world, I’d like to say that for the next year and a half, we get the financing all tied up and the plans all tied up and we know exactly what we’re going to do. And then hopefully we’re ready to go. It could be faster if we got really great support. I mean it could be in five years this puppy was getting ready for a grand opening. That’s an optimistic timeline, but it could happen.

On support for the project ...

If you walk around our campus, there might be a few faculty and staff members who are concerned about this in a negative way. The vast majority are excited, so excited they can hardly stand it. They’ve wanted this for years. Our alumni are going nuts over this. We’ve got a lot of alum legislators, and they’re saying, “How can we help?” There’s a grass-roots enthusiasm for this project that I believe has a sense of correctness for this region and for the community. To me, it’s like pent-up goodwill.

On how this project affects the chances of an NBA team coming ...

It’s not really a part of the plan. ... I’d probably be as excited as anyone in this state to see the NBA come here. Do I worry about this and what impacts it might have on Thomas & Mack and its revenue flow? Yes, I do. And I’d be silly not to. Having said that, from a regional perspective, I think it’d be good for us.

On what he’d like to see in five to 10 years ...

I want to see this facility be nationally recognized as one of the best in class. I would like to see it be filled with a lot of great events. I would like to see it create excitement and buzz about the university. I’d like to see the number of beds on campus go up to 6,000 or 7,000, which we think is fairly reasonable. We would like to see that it drew in national media attention to the Rebels, whether it was football or basketball, and that it made us a very attractive university for people.

Final thoughts ...

Will we get this done? I don’t know; I hope so. I feel like the team is in place. Really, the question is: Does the city, region and county think this is a valuable proposition? Or will donors and founding partners find value in this because it will help them improve their economies? If it does and they do, then I think we’re going to be in good shape. But we definitely need our friends in the business community here, and everybody in Las Vegas, to be really supportive of this. ... If I’m guilty of something here and the university is, it’s having big dreams. I say it’s time to have big dreams for the city. It’s time to get our pride back. It’s time to be brave and to go out and do it. Be done with being afraid; it’s time to be bold.

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at

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  1. Chunky says:

    A year or so ago they were laying off staff and whining like babies that the didn't have enough money and needed to raise tuition.

    Mr. Smatresk should stick to science and the role of education administration and let developers and event promoters figure out when, where and how to fund and build an ENTERTAINMENT venue!

    That's what Chunky thinks!

  2. Dodger Stadium is the only current Major League Ball park that has never changed its capacity. It has always held 56,000 fans.

    Notice on the map that it is connected to freeways on three sides, the Golden State, Pasadena and Hollywood Freeways with very easy access to the first two while none are linked to the stadium by city streets and multiple intersections.

    Now look at UNLV. There will be little traffic from the west since it has to cross the Strip. Two access directions are over miles of city streets, Maryland Pkwy, Flamingo and Tropicana. Over the third access, airport traffic alone can block Paradise for a couple miles back.

    Putting just 20,000 cars into one event in a timely manner is nearly impossible. Where are the transportation studies?

  3. Either students or tax payers are going to get stuck with the bill for this. Neither are willing to pay for it. On top of that it's location is horrible. Location is everything and the location would require billions more to expand roads & install proper parking.
    If this strikes people as a situation where Smatrek's eyes are bigger than the available resources then they'd be right.

  4. The Dodgers acquired 352 acres in Chavez Ravine in 1958 to build the Stadium and parking complex. The main campus of UNLV is located on a 332 acre land grant.

    The UNLV plans are to build a stadium nearly the same size as acquired for Dodger Stadium with parking facilities while using only a fraction of the same area since the campus remains intact.

    Parking for the Dodgers is all on the ground level which greatly facilitates the exiting cars when everyone wants to leave after the game.

    UNLV's Stadium would necessitate multi-level parking garages which notoriously jam up when everyone wants to leave at the same time.

    These garages would also require multiple columns of the largest elevators to move people from ground level to their cars and return for another load. These garages and elevators will be very expensive to build and maintain and work poorly in the best expectations.

  5. Now consider the 'interest index' which could be the size of the stadium in proportion to the surrounding population.

    "Greater Los Angeles" designated as a five county region Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside, CA had population estimate of 17,786,419 on January 1, 2009.

    The 'interest index' of Dodger Stadium would be about 50,000/17,800,000 or ~0.28%.

    The population of Clark County is about 2,000,000, about 1/9 of Los Angeles. To remain profitable with the same interest fraction, the UNLV Stadium should only be about (1/9) of 50,000 or 5600. The remaining seats above this number would be empty on the average.

    Where are the studies that show that public interest in Clark County would be 9 times larger for the UNLV Stadium as the Dodger Stadium? Was that interest projected from a professional study or from a knee-jerk estimate? Where are the estimates from UNLV School of Business?

    And inspite of Greater Los Angeles, the Dodgers still went bankrupt. Rather than destroying the limited area for the UNLV campus, a better choice for economic support should be developed. How about on the theme of education instead of Corporate Finance that today seems to be run more by prophets than profits?

  6. UNLV is LONG overdue for a decent facility... I can only hope the cheapskate members of CAVE (Citizens Against Virtually Everything) who frequent this forum don't dominate the discussion.

  7. As iffy as I am about the football stadium being built, it's the housing and retail part of this plan that I'm really positive about here. Anyone who's attended UNLV knows that it just doesn't feel like home. It's a commuter college through and through. Last I checked, there were something like, 20,000 students, while there are only 1800 dorms? The expansion of living environments and more places to work/shop for students will make it more unifying.

  8. So looking at these comments it's obvious why UNLV SHOULD build the stadium. Having an ON CAMPUS stadium helps bring up attendance and more money. Every one wants to cry about the parking or some reason why not to have it. Let's look at why UNLV SHOULD have it.

    1) In order for UNLV to move on to another bigger better conference it needs a larger stadium. The facilities play a HUGE role in recruiting. If you look at the most successful schools they have the best facilities. Also, you can use the Mendenhall center as a good example of how facilities can increase recruiting.

    2) Revenue, most people on here that are posting do not understand how the streams of money work for Universities. They receive funding obviously, from the state. But they also receive 8-10% of every licensed product they sell. They receive 25% of every grant a professor receives. Also 10% of all athletic money. So by increasing the athletic revenue they can decrease reliance on state funding and increase research by the success of their athletics.

    3) Unlike every other far fetched Caesar idea to get a tax district. UNLV actually has something to put in their arena. Not only football, but the MWC tourneys. Also, the strong possibility of moving other tourney's into this new facility.

    4) Extra events....

    A) UNLV basketball which generates over 13 million a year has to take long road trips when the PBR is in town. By having this venue they can now include another 35000 people to the PBR event and also have basketball at the Thomas and Mack.

    B) Now you can concert events and political events to the venue which would help increase the bottom line even more.

    C) Attendance for UNLV games will increase because they will now be watching games in the comfort of a 70 degree temperature controlled facility that allows for this. This facility will also entice recruits and increase the team overall.

    5) Every business within a 2 mile radius that is in the hotel, food, and retail business will benefit. Not only would a project of this magnitude bring plenty of construction jobs that will boost the area. But bringing an extra week of revenue just for football alone. Will boost the bottom line of every one involved. From capriotti's to Caesar Entertainment all will benefit.

    6) The taxi cab companies should love the idea of having a marquee destination added to the strip area. Think about how many more taxi rides from the strip to the arena would boost the taxi cabs tips.

    All of these benefits will also add to the economy on basic principles. The construction work needs to buy food, someone needs to make the food, someone needs to deliver the food. More job creation overall.

    This is a no brainer.

  9. Even to the most casual observer, the numbers on and about this project are so far from reality that many more questions remain to be answered.

    Where are the University traffic and transportation flow studies?

    Amy Childress is chair of the UNR Transportation Engineering group and Pushkin Kachroo is Director of the UNLV Transportation Research Center. They are in charge of 'preparing students for industry' yet there was no mention of University studies from them or any other academic or professional group.

    UNLV and UNR have many talented Grad & Undergrad students ready to work at a fraction of their manicured counterparts in industry and can do better work, yet it is apparent that none of them have been consulted on a formal level.

    The Lee Business School is continually writing award winning business plans but haven't published any analysis, plans or economic feasibility studies on the UNLV Stadium. How come?

    Univ of Nevada claims to be preparing students for just these kind of problems yet the University administrators do not involve their own academic efforts in a project that critically affects their own University. How come?

    Three red flags turn up: (1) the numbers for the Stadium are way off, (2) the high achievers of UNLV academics are ignored and (3) the contracts and financial arrangements of those who will direct this project for a PROFIT will all be private, regardless of what is advertised at this time.

    The Stadium deserves much input from #1 and #2, along with a public poll of the student body. Do they want to create parking lots and Stadiums out of athletic fields and future classroom sites? Lets bring the academics and the student body into the equation and not decide the outcome of the project from behind the green door, and I mean real green.

  10. Please point out how many other Division one major collage campus has a 5,600 seat stadium. High schools in Texas have larger ones. Please keep in mind it will be a multi use stadium. Do you think at other sites the collage kids support the stadiums. If people put up money to build this they should expect a return on their investment. Any one ever see what the $$$ are for hoisting a bowl game is. To compare this to Dodger stadium in not doing it justice. Is Dodger stadium a multi use stadium. I disagree with the worry warts who are good at planning failure it is time a bold move happens in LV and time they get on a even playing field (no pun intended) The day of top stars and events playing in small venues is over it is time to move into the future and become a top player in this business. UNLV would get a lot of $$$ from this which they can re-invest back into academics how do you think the other large universities do it.

  11. With a great venue, UNLV Football could only benefit. That is of course if the on field product is worth it. MSL may gain traction was well. Single events would be huge! I do worry about the lack of huge corp. dollars. Small markets like PHXS, Twin Cities, Denver, etc have well north of a dozen Fortune 500's. We have like what? 3-4? Despite this I remain cautiously optimisitic.

  12. The only concern should be traffic. Just a thought, they could have satellite parking at the hotels on the West side of the strip. And a dedicated lane for shuttles to run people to and from the game. Have the Hotels pay because it drives traffic to them.

  13. When the Las Vegas Convention Center was built, it was dubbed the "The White Elephant". In 1959, it was built on a site of two failed ideas, and it "sported" a 6500 seat rotunda for concerts, mega-fights, and basketball. It also had a 90,000 square ft convention area. it was built close to the strip so that people who used the convention, would have access to rooms and dining. 53 years later, the White Elephant has been a catalyst for growth and Las Vegas has one of the largest convention centers in the world. The conservatives who wailed that it was too big, it was too far away, and no one would use was wrong! The Beatles played there, Cassius Clay fought Floyd Patterson, it has continually needed upgrade. BTW, the 6500 seat arena was too small and the T&M Center was built. Still, the conservatives said that the T&M was too large. It cost too much. Who would use it? It as paid for itself a dozen times over. Let the grown-ups worry about the grown-up things. Build the football stadium! Las Vegas needs another catalyst.

  14. There is a plan to make a lot of money but it is buried in the details.

    A Corporation, or LLC will be formed to raise money and control the entire project. It is the custom in business, that those who raise the money take a percentage of the funds they raise.

    This is done in banking, insurance, all over Wall Street and in some of the start-up technologies. AIG gave it's agents up to 30% of the price of credit default swaps they sold and distributed the remaining 70% to owners, principals, etc.

    5% is a modest commission, so with $1 billion changing hands, $50 million in commissions alone can be split by just a few principals in the LLC who procured the funding.

    Add to that salaries, bonuses, allowances, travel, perquisites, annuities, etc. and a great deal of money can be acquired for keeps. A good place for storage is in the Cayman or British Virgin Islands, where billions have gone through portals no bigger then a post office box and owners names turn to codes on the other side.

    A project like the Stadium (Dome) could continue for five years or more before serious trouble ensues, but by then the debt is too big to handle. The LLC principals still come out multimillionaires, even if the project falls flat into bankruptcy.

    Actually, it has to be a Dome be usable all year. 105 deg in the shade is much more than that in the direct sun, where the light reflects off the floor to increase heat loading to occupants. The cost must include a Dome or the price is not properly bid.

    And hire Joni Mitchell to perform at the ground breaking ceremonies, singing her song.

  15. Headline: Stadium looking like a reality.
    Last Paragraph: Will this get done? I don't know.

  16. No tax dollars for this or any other "stadium" project! With all the comments, none mentions the fact that this is another project by the "good-old-boy" club. Interesting isn't it? Just when an outside developer comes along with a viable plan, the cronies get together to block it or to make it more expensive. Anyone remember Bob Snow & Main Street Station? The "good-old-boys" DT took care of him by filing lawsuits that cost him millions and finally bankrupted him. Now "good-old-boy" Boyd Gaming owns the Main Street Station. Think about the LV Monorail which was touted by Bob ("Pig-of-the-Hill) Broadbent, one of the most prolific waster of tax dollars ever seen around here. He used his inside influence to get the White Elephant off the ground and look at the mess it created. Cronyism, nepotism and favoritism are still very much alive & well in "Sin City" and its environments!

  17. I think all of Las Vegas only thinks about parking and traffic. I have never heard so much ridiculous ranting about traffic except from Las Vegans. Traffic into the city = more $$$ people. Or, how about instead of flying out of the parking lots, stick around and hang out in the retail shops or god forbid walk across the street to the Hard Rock or something. Take a bus, taxi, shuttle, WALK. Work in a bus system to the event with transportation to Strip properties. You KNOW the casinos will sign that deal in an instant to get free visitors from major events.

  18. With any luck, this will get done. Then all of the people that constantly whine about it will actually move out of town since they have no sense of community and fail to realize that UNLV is the heart of the valley. As it goes, so does the rest of the city. I wish I was here to see what that was like in the late 80's when there was less than a half million people here and the T&M was always sold out. There are two million now and the place has only sold out a half dozen or so times in a decade.
    And something tells me that the casinos will let you park in their garage and even offer a free shuttle to and from the game/event. Why spend the money on parking when you could spend it at their establishment.
    And then you could get 50,000 a night for NFR and not just 18,000. And UNLV gets a good portion of that money to help fund other things, such as improving accademics. It's not like the Governor of Northern Nevada is helping. Get some local companies and workers to build something that should have been done 10 years ago.
    Ok enough ranting. Let's here the people that like to halt progress. This is for the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and not a billionaire owner of a pro team that wants a free stadium. Get a clue.

  19. In the artist's rendition, the stadium looks like a gigantic punch bowl. That's how some folks described it when I showed them the picture. Some less kind could call it other names, esp. Rebel foes.

    On the other hand, I do like the look. It's an example of form following function, very futuristic.