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Special session kicks off to consider NFL stadium funding

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Courtesy of MANICA Architechture

An artist’s illustration of a stadium on Russell Road and Las Vegas Boulevard was revealed during a Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee meeting at UNLV Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016.

Updated Monday, Oct. 10, 2016 | 6:45 p.m.

6:16 p.m.: The Senate kicked off Monday evening’s proceedings with a round of public comment where opponents of the stadium expressed frustration that stadium proponents — including Steve Wynn, MGM Resorts CEO Jim Murren, and Caesars executive Jan Jones Blackhurst — had been given three hours to testify in the Assembly chambers.

Annette Magnus, executive director of Battle Born Progress, said that there were people waiting all day in Las Vegas to testify who were unable to because they had no notice that there would be a public comment period this evening.

Chairman of the Libertarian Party of Nevada Brett Pojunis asked Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson whether there would be more public comment for those opposed to the stadium to express their positions. Roberson confirmed there would be another opportunity for public comment Tuesday morning, though he wasn’t sure at what time.

“The working class deserves the exact same rights as billionaires,” Pojunis said.

Another public commenter referred to the three-hour pro-stadium and pro-convention center testimony as “straight, unadulterated propaganda.”

Following the brief public comment period — and after consulting with Democratic state Sen. Aaron Ford and Ruben Kihuen — Roberson announced that there would be a second public comment period at 8 a.m.

4:20 p.m.: On the steps of the Nevada Legislature building, a truck horn sounds intermittently, disrupting conversations in the vicinity.

The truck — a fire engine turned promotional vehicle — sports black and white paint and a Raiders logo. Small text near a wheel says, “Laborers Local 872,” the construction union that has expressed enthusiastic support for the convention center and stadium projects.

The pro-stadium engine and flags hanging nearby dwarf a small group of protesters situated outside the legislative building, where, inside, lawmakers are hearing from multiple project supporters.

Andrew List, a Carson City resident and local attorney, is one of the protesters. He organized a poster-making party at his house Sunday evening and showed up here by 8 a.m. today.

“We don’t have a fire truck, but we have signs,” he said.

List is holding a poster that says, “Spend Your Own Money,” an apparent reference to casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who proposed the stadium project and is contributing $650 million. He’d rather see the state use tax money to address education and mental health problems.

“It seems like it never pans out the way it should,” List said, referring to stadium economic projections. “I’m afraid the state is going to get left holding the bag here.”

List’s friend, Autumn Zemke, echoed his concerns. She thinks the stadium project will inhibit the state’s ability to raise taxes for several decades. Plus, as a Carson City resident, she’s offended by the insinuation that state residents won’t be footing the bill.

“We are the ones who go to Las Vegas,” she said.

Zemke plans to “occupy” the special session for however long it lasts. No lawmakers had spoken with her, she said.

2:45 p.m.: Three influential Strip leaders — Steve Wynn, MGM CEO Jim Murren and Jan Jones Blackhurst, an executive vice president with Caesars Entertainment — implored Nevada lawmakers to vote yes on the convention center and stadium projects.

The trio spoke before members of both houses of the Legislature for a combined 25 minutes, making their case for why the pricey projects would benefit the Strip and, ultimately, state residents.

Wynn, long hailed as a visionary in the gaming industry, said building a stadium and bringing an NFL franchise to Las Vegas could pay dividends to the city and entice the NBA to expand to the city as well. Sports teams, he said, are the “final cornerstone” of stabilizing tourism in Nevada.

“I hope you find it in your wisdom to approve it shortly and promptly,” Wynn said, adding that neglecting to do so would be “one of the most heartbreaking mistakes.”

Jones Blackhurst, a former mayor of Las Vegas, said only 40 percent of Strip revenue comes from gaming, meaning people visit the city for other experiences. The proposed projects fit into the evolution of Las Vegas’ entertainment offerings, she said.

Wrapping up the Strip executives’ presentations, Murren explained why MGM, which privately funded the new T-Mobile Arena, supports the projects. The convention center expansion and stadium, he said, would further enhance Las Vegas’ image as the go-to place for staging a convention or finding robust entertainment options.

These type of venues drive incremental visitation, the technical term used to describe new tourists who wouldn’t otherwise come to Las Vegas, he said. Murren said T-Mobile Arena expects to draw 500,000 such visitors to Las Vegas this year.

Without a mega-events center capable of hosting football games or large-scale concerts, Las Vegas is uncompetitive, Murren said.

“It must be noted that both these projects are different but equally important to the success of our community,” he said. “Projects like these simply don’t come around that often.”

12:29 p.m.: Senators have spent the past three hours drilling the state’s top economic development official over some of the assumptions on which the proposal to build an NFL stadium in Las Vegas is based.

Some of the toughest questions this morning came from newly minted Democratic state Sen. Julia Ratti of Sparks, who drilled into the nitty-gritty details of bond repayment provisions and the so-called “waterfall provisions,” which determine where any excess revenue generated by the room tax increase goes.

Republican state Sen. Patricia Farley similarly expressed her skepticism of the state’s economic projections, noting that sports economists who study these deals for a living say taxpayer-financed stadiums are always a bad deal for the public.

Steve Hill, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, said the projections are based on knowledge of the way the Las Vegas’s economy works” that those sports economists don’t have. “The people who are the best thinkers about this in the world think these numbers are right,” Hill said.

Two Republican senators, Mark Lipparelli and Becky Harris, asked about the protections in place to ensure UNLV has priority access to the stadium for its football games. The university would be charged about $250,000 a game to play in the NFL stadium, about $1.5 million a year for all six home games, Hill said.

Harris asked what would happen should a scheduling conflict arise between a UNLV football game and a major entertainment event, while Lipparelli questioned whether that $250,000 per game rent could change, given that the legislation only specifies UNLV must pay a “reasonable rent” to use the stadium.

The legislation includes a backup proposal to build a collegiate stadium for UNLV should an NFL team decide to not relocate to Las Vegas.

That stadium would cost about $580 million and require $380 million in public funding, though UNLV would have to secure $200 million in private funding for the stadium. The Rebels would play for free there, because the stadium would be owned by the Nevada Board of Regents.

In the Assembly, meanwhile, lawmakers lobbed questions at Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo about the need for more police funding.

The Clark County Crime Prevention Act of 2016 would increase the county sales tax by 0.1 percent, bringing the sales tax rate for police up to 0.4 percent.

Metro Police say the increase would generate about $39.2 million a year. The money would be used to hire 66 officers in the resort corridor, the areas surrounding the Las Vegas Strip and downtown, and another 245 officers in other parts of the county, Lombardo said.

The sheriff asked lawmakers to separate police funding from the convention center and stadium issues. But Assembly members questioned why police funding needed to be discussed now as opposed during the regular session, which begins in February.

Assemblyman Ira Hansen encouraged fellow lawmakers to refrain from voting on the bill until the Legislature can explore it in more depth. He called it an “abuse of process” for police funding to be included in the special session.

Lombardo and Jeremy Aguero of Applied Analysis — the Las Vegas-based research firm that has been working with the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee and Metro Police on the funding recommendation — vehemently disagreed with that suggestion.

“The urgency has been here a long time before now,” Aguero said. “There is a clear and present risk that exists within our resort corridor and a clear and present need within the community — that if we don’t take steps, that we are increasing the vulnerability.”

During nearly three hours of discussion, lawmakers also queried law enforcement officials about ancillary costs, such as training and body cameras, that will arise as a result of hiring more than 300 new officers.

Metro’s chief financial officer, Rich Hoggan, said the department has beefed up its recruitment and human resources departments this year in anticipation of the new hires. The department has factored equipment into the cost of hiring new officers, he said.

9:52 a.m.: The ceremonial and procedural items have been dispensed with, which means business in both chambers of the Nevada Legislature is finally underway.

The Senate is taking up the bill dealing with the NFL stadium project and the Las Vegas Convention Center renovation and expansion, while the Assembly addresses the “More Cops” bill, which would provide funds to increase the number of police officers on the Strip.

Both chambers are hearing testimony from some of the top economic experts in the state.

Jeremy Aguero of the research firm Applied Analysis is picking apart the “More Cops” bill in the Assembly, while Steve Hill, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, presents the stadium and convention center bill to the Senate.

This afternoon, senators will join their colleagues in the Assembly chambers to hear from some of the top leaders in the casino industry, including MGM CEO Jim Murren, Caesars Entertainment Executive Vice President Jan Jones Blackhurst, and Wynn Resorts CEO Steve Wynn. That joint meeting kicks off at 2 p.m. and is expected to last until 4:30 p.m.

•••

CARSON CITY — It’s game day in the state capital.

Lawmakers are gathering this morning for a special legislative session to consider raising taxes to build an NFL-ready stadium, expand and renovate the Las Vegas Convention Center and bolster police presence in the Las Vegas resort corridor.

The special session, called by Gov. Brian Sandoval, is months in the making. A group charged with vetting tourism-related projects forwarded its recommendations to the governor last month, setting the stage for this week’s legislative proceedings.

Both houses of the Legislature are set to meet at 8 a.m. for what could be anywhere from a couple of days to a full week of discussions over the tourism-related proposals. Should the deliberations continue into Tuesday, lawmakers will recess between sundown Tuesday and Wednesday evening in observation of Yom Kippur.

Of the three proposals, the stadium has garnered the most attention since Sheldon Adelson, chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corp., unveiled in January his desire to build a 65,000-seat venue that could lure the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas, giving the city its first professional football team and a new home for the UNLV football program.

The project comes with a steep public price tag, though. The developers have asked the public to contribute $750 million toward the endeavor. The Raiders have pledged another $500 million, and Adelson has said he would pick up the rest of the construction tab, as well as some infrastructure costs.

The developers said the stadium could cost upward of $1.9 billion. The public’s portion of the bill would be funded by a 0.88 percent increase to the hotel room tax in Clark County’s gaming corridor and a 0.5 percent increase in outlying areas.

The project has drawn both enthusiastic praise and fierce opposition.

Proponents say a stadium will provide a much-needed boost to Las Vegas’ entertainment offerings and attract a whole new segment of tourists.

Critics argue the public contribution is too high and could leave taxpayers on the hook to pay back bonds if tourist volume ever dips again.

Two bill drafts were posted online late Sunday night. You can read the bills here and here.

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