Friday, Dec. 4, 2015 | 3:34 p.m.
State higher education regents today unanimously gave UNLV the go-ahead to purchase a $50 million, 42-acre plot of empty land near campus.
The vote puts the land-locked university one step closer to finally breaking out of its urban confines, but questions remain as to what the land will be used for.
UNLV presented an updated vision for the property to regents today, which narrowed the choices to either a stadium complex or a campus village.
While popular opinion seems firmly on the side of building a replacement for the far-away Sam Boyd Stadium, both options capitalize on the economic benefits of the location’s proximity to both the Strip and McCarran International Airport.
Both options also include space for retail, which could lead the way to valuable partnerships with local businesses. Early plans also include space for academic programs and even a possible UNLV-themed bar and restaurant.
“I don’t want to say it’s as important as the school of medicine, but it’s close,” Regent James Dean Leavitt said of the deal. “If this becomes a mega-events center … this is a benefit to the community, to the city, to the state.”
“This is something UNLV needs to do,” Regent Cedric Crear said. “We need to make sure UNLV … has room to grow.”
Other regents were more skeptical.
“The primary goal of UNLV is to reach the top tier status, and I don’t actually see a plan for that,” Regent Allison Stephens said. “It’s a concern for me to go and expand when we [haven’t accomplished] our No. 1 initiative.”
The vote means the university must now work out the short-term financing for the deal to meet the bank’s deadline of the end of this month. A long-term financing plan is expected to be nailed down by March 2016.
Don’t expect anything to be built any time soon, though.
UNLV doesn’t expect much action on the site, which sits about a half mile west of the Thomas & Mack Center along Tropicana Avenue, for at least the next few years.
“This is something we’re doing for the long term,” said Gerry Bomotti, UNLV’s finance chief.
He compared the deal to early real estate investment in properties in Green Valley and Summerlin, done with the belief that the land would become valuable in the long-term.
“They saw the growth and strategically invested in that land,” Bomotti said.
In the short term, the university will seek to utilize the empty space to generate funds from billboard advertisements and events staging for Thomas & Mack Center.
Having the land also could allow the university to free up space on its main campus for more academic facilities. Bomotti said existing athletic facilities, which take up about a quarter of the main campus, could be rebuilt nearer to Thomas & Mack Center and the school’s east-west academic mall could be expanded another 15 to 20 acres.
UNLV has been in the process of acquiring the land since April when it reached an agreement with Wells Fargo, the land’s manager, to come up with a plan to present to the regents. That agreement requires the university to close the sale of the land by the end of this month.
But UNLV’s quest to find land to expand past its landlocked borders goes back much further. A huge push to build a stadium on the existing campus fell apart in 2013.
Public support for acquiring the land was nearly unanimous as well.
“The lifeblood of this state is this Southern Nevada thing called tourism. It pays the bills,” said Sig Rogich, a former regent. “And if we have an opportunity to build a great facility on 42 acres of land, it’s going to go far beyond the university, it will help the state as a whole.”
Other high-profile supporters of the deal included the David Saltman, the UNLV faculty senate, the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce and Las Vegas Sun owner, editor and publisher Brian Greenspun.
The university will come back to regents with an updated plan for the property within six months.