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October 26, 2021

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UNLV stadium planners say they can overcome FAA’s height restrictions

UNLV Now Stadium Renderings

Majestic Realty Co.

UNLV Now mega events center rendering.

The Federal Aviation Administration has raised concerns about the height of UNLV's proposed stadium.

Federal regulations require that developers looking to build a tall structure near an airport must first consult with the FAA. The agency analyzes blueprints and determines if the proposed building poses any hazards to air travel based on its height and proximity to the airport. The UNLV Now "mega-events center" would be less than two miles from McCarran International Airport.

The FAA doesn't have any authority over local planning and building permits, so these aeronautical studies are only a recommendation. However, Clark County requires FAA approval for all proposed buildings in the county’s jurisdiction, which includes UNLV’s Maryland Parkway campus.

Submitted plans for the UNLV Now call for a 205-feet-tall stadium.

In a letter to university officials, the FAA said the stadium was too tall, posing an "adverse physical or electromagnetic interference effect" on flights coming in and out of McCarran. The FAA argued the stadium as presented could affect departure and landing routes, block radar and interfere with communication signals between planes and the air-control tower.

The FAA requested that UNLV Now officials decide between two options:

• Revise the proposal for a stadium no taller than 106 feet. (UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center was designed at a height of 104 feet.)

• Request another study for a stadium up to 168 feet, which is the FAA's "not-to-exceed height."

UNLV Now's project leader Don Snyder said the university was well aware of FAA's concerns but had submitted taller-than-expected plans to test the FAA's building parameters.

"That's a very normal part of a project like this," Snyder said. "We want maximum flexibility because we're in the preliminary design phase."

The actual plans for the UNLV stadium call for a turf-to-ceiling height of 195 feet, which is still beyond the FAA's maximum height limit.

However, UNLV and its developer partner, Majestic Realty, have always planned to sink the stadium about 30 feet into the ground to create a "bowl" effect, Snyder said. Such a stadium would fit within the FAA's parameters, he said.

"Just being close to the airport adds a few more hoops," Snyder said. "But I feel really confident we're on the right track."

This wouldn't be the first time the FAA had concerns about tall buildings in the Las Vegas Valley.

In 2007, developers behind the Crown Las Vegas resort concept had called for a 1,888-feet-tall observation tower on the southern end of the Strip, a few miles from McCarran. After the FAA study, developers scaled back its plans to a 1,064-feet tower. The $5 billion resort, which was scheduled to be completed in 2014, was scrapped in 2008.

In the mid-1990s, developers of the Stratosphere scaled back their tower proposal from 1,800 feet to its current 1,149-feet height. Developers also decided to build the observation tower within the boundaries of the city of Las Vegas instead of Clark County because Las Vegas has fewer regulations for FAA approval on buildings.

Similar concerns from the FAA during the early 2000s caused delays in building University of Phoenix Stadium, the Glendale, Ariz., complex that is home for the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals. In a more extreme case that happened a few years ago, the city of San Diego forced a developer to chop 20 feet off of a building that was built beyond FAA specifications.

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