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October 23, 2019

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Why UNLV’s decision to drop partner in stadium project could be risky

UNLV Now stadium rendering

Field of dreams: A rendering of the proposed $800 million, 60,000-seat UNLV Now stadium.

UNLV Now Stadium

A model of the UNLV Now stadium project is shown here at the Nevada System of Higher Education's Board of Regents meeting on Friday, Jan. 11, 2013. UNLV and its private developer partners updated regents on the project, which now features a 100-yard-long video screen and six VIP suites seating 300 people. Launch slideshow »

Majestic urges UNLV to rethink split

On Wednesday night, Majestic's point man, Craig Cavileer — also the president of the Silverton resort — issued a letter to UNLV President Neal Smatresk expressing his disappointment in the university's decision to sever its ties with its developer partner of more than two years.

Cavileer said he was surprised by UNLV's decision to end their exclusive partnership.

"We have successfully worked together to find solutions to many challenges over the past two years and pledge to continue to do so," Cavileer said in his letter. "Given the relationship we have enjoyed, we were surprised to learn over the past two weeks that UNLV has considered and now desires to cease joint pursuit of the UNLV Now … development with Majestic."

Cavileer called this moment in the project's development a "critical juncture" and urged UNLV to rethink its decision. In addition, Cavileer said Majestic was concerned about the "nature of UNLV's performance under the (exclusive negotiating agreement)" and asked all UNLV officials to preserve any correspondence between the two partners on the project.

"We hope that UNLV will reconsider its position and develop the resolve to permit us together to achieve the vision which you ambitiously articulated when you invited Majestic to join in this project just 24 months ago," Cavileer said.

Don Snyder, UNLV Now's project leader, said he had high regard for Cavileer and Majestic but reiterated on Thursday that a "tough decision" was made to ensure the project's success.

"This is not about Majestic," Snyder said. "This is an evolution of the project so we have more direct alignment between the resort industry and the university."

Don Snyder may have a conservative banking background, but consider him a betting man when it comes to the UNLV stadium proposal.

In his pursuit to win broader support for an on-campus stadium, Snyder took a huge gamble this week by dropping UNLV's well-heeled partner, leaving behind $400 million on the table.

By the end of May, UNLV will sever its ties with private developer Majestic Realty, capping a nearly three-year partnership that created the current vision and conceptual design for a 60,000-seat mega-events center that proponents say will be a "game-changer" for Las Vegas.

"This absolutely, positively will be a game-changer for UNLV and Las Vegas," Snyder said. "We have an opportunity and an obligation in front of us to move the project forward."

Moving the project forward means taking a step back to re-evaluate the specifics of the project, Snyder said.

With Majestic's ouster, UNLV is heading back to the drawing board. UNLV hopes to build on the vision and excitement created by its Majestic partnership to rethink and possibly redesign the project, dubbed UNLV Now.

"It's clear the project has evolved into something that serves both the university and the resort industry," Snyder said. "We're taking a step back to make sure the project reflects the needs of the university and the resort industry."

Snyder is working with the six largest casino operators in Las Vegas — MGM Resorts International, Caesars Entertainment, Las Vegas Sands, Wynn Resorts, Boyd Gaming and Station Casinos — to "dial in" the scope of the project.

Snyder said the new discussions with the resort industry will challenge some basic assumptions about the project, including the number of stadium seats and proposed amenities, such as nightclubs.

Snyder doesn't have a firm number on the stadium size but envisions the UNLV stadium will be north of 50,000 seats — as recommended by a University of Michigan study — but perhaps have fewer than 60,000 seats.

"I'm not locked into a number. I don't know what it is," Snyder said. "It may be smaller than 60,000 seats. If it's smaller, so be it."

Majestic had pledged to develop both the stadium and a student village, with up to 3,000 apartment-style dorms and up to 400,000 square feet of retail space. The village portion will come in a second phase of construction, Snyder said.

Without Majestic, UNLV won't have Los Angeles billionaire Ed Roski's $400 million pledge to fall back on. Snyder remains confident however, that he could garner enough private support to fill the void.

After all, Snyder raised $500 million as chairman of UNLV's most recent capital campaign. He was also the driving force behind the development of the Smith Center, for which he raised another $500 million.

However, there are no plans at this time to ask for any financial support from the resort industry, Snyder said. He wants to make sure he has their support first.

"Let's just make sure we get as much consensus around the details," Snyder said. "It's time to make sure we're all on the same page."

Despite taking a step back for more discussions, UNLV is moving ahead with its legislative bill to create a special tax district on campus to pay for the stadium's construction.

Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, officially introduced the bill at a committee hearing Thursday afternoon when lawmakers held a preliminary discussion over the bill.

Lawmakers are still recovering from the slew of stadium bills last legislative session but seemed willing to entertain UNLV's second attempt for approval on a tax increment financing district. Kirkpatrick admitted she still had some issues with the bill but said it was important for the students of UNLV and the people of Southern Nevada.

Kirkpatrick did not invite anyone from UNLV to present with her. She said she didn't want a "big dog and pony show" that characterized last year's failed stadium bill proposals.

"The pictures are always pretty," she said. "But the policy got lost. We want to keep this a policy discussion."

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