Published Friday, March 1, 2013 | 9:23 a.m.
Updated Saturday, March 2, 2013 | 3:55 p.m.
MGM Resorts International wants to build a privately funded, 20,000-seat indoor arena behind the New York-New York and Monte Carlo resorts that would feature boxing, top-draw headliners and special events.
Its partner is the pre-eminent sports and entertainment promoter AEG, whose collection of arenas includes the Staples Center and the Home Depot Center in Southern California, Best Buy Theater in Times Square, New York, and facilities in Shanghai, Beijing, Sydney, Stockholm and elsewhere.
The project, announced Friday morning, is anticipated to be financed with equity contributions from each of the partners as well as privately funded third-party financing, the company said in a statement.
MGM said retail shops, dining, entertainment and other enterprises would accompany the arena, stretching from the Strip to Frank Sinatra Drive behind the resorts.
“This new facility would be an extension of our entertainment legacy and continue our leadership position in the worlds of boxing, sports, concerts and other events that drive significant visitation and revenue to Las Vegas,” MGM Resorts Chairman and CEO Jim Murren said. “AEG’s dominant position in arena development, programming and management makes it an ideal partner for this venture.”
AEG President and CEO Timothy J. Leiweke said his company’s network of venues would “allow us to maximize booking and operations opportunities.”
The partnership with MGM Resorts, he said, “brings together the two largest promoters and operators of live entertainment venues in Las Vegas, guaranteeing the long-term success of the new arena.”
Design and planning is well under way, and the partners will begin seeking appropriate approvals immediately, a company spokesman said.
The MGM-AEG arena plans, the latest entry in the continuing and competing efforts to build a free-standing indoor arena in Las Vegas, will not affect the proposed UNLV Now, the "mega-center" stadium project that would reshape the university campus, said Don Snyder, the project leader.
"The two proposals are pretty much apples and oranges," Snyder said. "UNLV Now is designed for hosting large events that would draw between 25,000 and 60,000 people. There's always been separate conversation about arenas. All along, I’ve felt that an arena project can be done by individual companies and with private money."
MGM Resorts had initially thrown its support behind UNLV Now but has since said the center’s price tag of $800 million to $900 million was too prohibitive, raising doubts about MGM's $20 million pledge for campus project.
Snyder maintains MGM is still supportive of the UNLV Now project. UNLV is now working with various Strip stakeholders to "dial in" the cost of the stadium.
"These types of projects are always difficult," Snyder said. "These are very normal and healthy discussions."
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, which usually takes a neutral stance on competitive projects, stayed true to form, not even mentioning MGM in its public comment.
“Our resort partners have invested billions of dollars into providing the facilities and amenities to provide visitors with the best possible experiences,” the organization that markets Las Vegas said in a statement. “Any project that is going to enhance the Las Vegas brand experience and potentially attract more visitors is beneficial to the future of our destination.”
Snyder, who recently stepped down as UNLV's Hotel College dean to focus on the UNLV stadium, said he welcomed AEG's interest in bringing more events in Las Vegas. AEG, which is the world's largest operator of sports teams and stadiums, previously had partnered with Caesars Entertainment on a proposed arena project on the Strip.
Snyder said he wasn't concerned that MGM-AEG's proposed arena would compete for events with UNLV's stadium. The UNLV stadium can host larger events and is a neutral site, meaning it could attract a wider range of events, he said.
"They are complementary projects, not competitors," Snyder said. "AEG is a great company, and is good for our community."
The Los Angeles-based AEG has several connections with Los Angeles real estate billionaire Ed Roski, who is UNLV Now's private developer partner.
Roski co-owns the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Kings with AEG. Roski and AEG are also partners of the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Roski's Majestic Realty, which owns the Silverton Casino, has pledged to front 40 percent of the estimated cost of the UNLV Now stadium.
UNLV Now developers are hoping to raise the remainder of the cost from resort industry contributions, naming rights and corporate partnerships, as well as a special tax district awaiting approval from the Legislature.
UNLV is still working with Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick on the legislative proposal, Snyder said. Budget-conscious lawmakers in Carson City are unlikely to approve a tax-increment financing district without a concrete plan from UNLV Now developers regarding how they hope to finance the stadium.
The Smith Center for the Performing Arts, which Snyder helped raise $500 million for, took three legislative session for final approval on a similar tax district. From conception to completion, the Smith Center took 18 years, Snyder said.
Snyder said he remained confident a bill for UNLV Now would reach the floor of the Legislature in the remaining three months of the 2013 session. However, he was adamant he wanted to get the UNLV stadium project right, not to hastily speed it through.
"I'm convinced as ever that this project meets the need for this community," Snyder said. "It is still a game-changer for UNLV.”
MGM Resorts operates the 16,800-seat Grand Garden Arena at MGM Grand and the 12,000-seat Mandalay Bay Events Center at Mandalay Bay on the Strip. The Thomas & Mack Center, which has 18,776 seats when configured for basketball games, is just over two miles from MGM Grand.
Rival Caesars Entertainment, through its Las Vegas Arena Foundation, also has worked to develop a 20,000-seat arena east of the Quad on the Strip. The Caesars project is controversial because the company has attempted to win legislative approval of a 0.9-cent sales tax in a tourism district within a three-mile radius of the site.