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June 26, 2016

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UNLV likes Sands-backed stadium for NFL team but isn’t married to it yet

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UNLV closed a $50 million deal to buy 42 acres of empty land along Tropicana Avenue and Koval Lane that could be used to build a stadium on campus. The sale was announced Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016.

Updated Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016 | 7 p.m.

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NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, left, laughs as Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis talks to the media after an NFL owners meeting Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016, in Houston.

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Las Vegas Sands Corp. CEO Sheldon Adelson speaks at the Global Gaming Expo, Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014, in Las Vegas.

UNLV is receptive to plans being pushed by Las Vegas Sands Corp. for construction of a $1 billion, 65,000-seat stadium on land recently bought by the university, but its president indicated Thursday that other options are still on the table.

Las Vegas Sands, the casino company that runs the Venetian and Palazzo on the Strip, wants to see a stadium erected on a 42-acre lot that UNLV purchased on Tropicana Avenue and Koval Lane. UNLV has openly discussed the idea of a putting a stadium there, and its president, Len Jessup, wrote in a memo that the Oakland Raiders were eyeing the site.

To have the Raiders in a stadium at UNLV would be a huge milestone for Las Vegas, which currently has no major league professional sports team (although the forthcoming T-Mobile Arena on the Strip may one day host a hockey team).

Sands owner Sheldon Adelson has scheduled a Friday meeting with Raiders owner Mark Davis. Sands spokesman Ron Reese didn't elaborate on the nature of their discussions and the Raiders declined comment.

Jessup said in the memo — first reported by Nevada political journalist Jon Ralston — that the university was told by Las Vegas Sands that the Raiders would “tour locations around the valley for a potential new home.” He said they wanted to meet Friday to answer questions about the 42-acre site.

Jessup said in an interview Thursday that a stadium remains “just one of many options” for the 42-acre lot. He said he had only become aware of the Las Vegas Sands proposal recently, and that the university was open to talking with anyone willing to be a partner in developing the lot.

The plan supported by Las Vegas Sands could also fulfill another goal for UNLV: Getting its football team out of Sam Boyd Stadium and closer to campus.

“If a public-private partnership could emerge with folks putting together a stadium on that land in a way that would have little or no cost for UNLV, but it would be a facility that we could use — that would be the ideal situation for the university,” Jessup said. “We need to have a stadium close to campus, wherever it may go.”

UNLV officials finalized the $50 million sale of the lot just last week, more than a month after telling a gathering of state higher education officials that they planned to build either a stadium or a campus village on the spot. At the same meeting, local business leaders turned out to voice strong support for the stadium option.

The need for a larger stadium-type venue was also discussed at a meeting of the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee in September. Presenters told the committee at the time that a bigger stadium attracts bigger events — including, but not limited to, football games.

The committee is charged with evaluating the region’s infrastructure needs in such areas as stadiums, convention centers and mass transit, and submitting a report to the governor this summer. Both Jessup and George Markantonis, president of the Venetian and Palazzo, are members of that committee, which also met Thursday.

Markantonis was tight-lipped when asked about Las Vegas Sands’ stadium plans.

“It’s a very exciting development for Las Vegas and for UNLV,” he said. “Anyone who lives in this town would feel that way.”

An emailed company statement said Las Vegas Sands “strongly supports a state-of-the art stadium” to attract big athletic and entertainment events in addition to hosting UNLV’s football team.

“The governor’s tourism infrastructure committee is tasked with finding ideas that will further benefit and grow our tourism economy — nothing will move that needle like a new world-class stadium,” the statement said.

Despite all the potential benefits that an NFL team could bring to Las Vegas, however, it’s not necessary to make the UNLV stadium happen. The university may still opt to build one and use it for a range of events, in addition to its football team.

“It’s beginning to look like, from the analysis we’re doing, that a facility like we’re talking about makes sense even without the NFL,” Jessup said.

The stadium issue may come before the committee as soon as next month.

Sun reporter Ian Whitaker and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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