Las Vegas Sun

November 18, 2019

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Where I stand:

No debate, we’re ready for The Debate

Among the ways to gauge how a community matures is by its increasing role in public discourse. And that discourse doesn’t come much more elevated than a debate between two people seeking the presidency of the United States. We all should be proud that our community is hosting Wednesday night’s duel of critical thinking skills between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump. And that’s why I’ve asked Len Jessup, the president of UNLV, and Rossi Ralenkotter, the president and CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, to share the backstory and what the event means to the campus and the community.

— Brian Greenspun

Major League Baseball’s World Series is often referred to as the “Fall Classic” because it occurs every October and features the top teams from the National and American leagues in a best-of-seven series to determine the champion. Las Vegas will have its own version of the “Fall Classic” Wednesday night when it hosts the third and final presidential debate at UNLV before voters go to the polls Nov. 8. It will be the first time that Nevada has hosted a general election presidential debate.

Len Jessup

Len Jessup

Rossi Ralenkotter

Rossi Ralenkotter

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and UNLV applied as partners to the Commission on Presidential Debates in spring 2015 to be a host site. We were one of 16 universities and/or cities competing for the opportunity to host one of three presidential debates or the single vice-presidential debate for the 2016 general election. The commission selected the Thomas & Mack Center last fall to be the site of the final debate. To use the baseball analogy, this is the seventh game of the World Series in the political arena.

Las Vegas is a natural location for it, given our status as the No. 1 meetings and convention destination in North America for 22 consecutive years. Individuals traveling to Las Vegas for the debate will understand why nearly 6 million people — including executives from Fortune 500 companies — come to Las Vegas for business each year to meet, negotiate deals and exchange ideas. Simply put, the debate will reinforce that “Las Vegas means business.”

There is no better experience — or value in a major city — for a special event than Las Vegas. Our world-class resorts, large amounts of meeting space, proximity to McCarran International Airport and customer service all contribute to that No. 1 ranking.

The presidential debate will bring global attention to Southern Nevada and the entire state. The first presidential debate in September drew more than 80 million television viewers worldwide. We anticipate a similar viewing audience and estimate the total publicity value for UNLV and Las Vegas will exceed $100 million. Between 2,500 and 5,000 national and international journalists are expected to travel to Las Vegas, and ABC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX and NBC networks will all televise the debate live. CNN and MSNBC will broadcast live from the campus’ academic mall the day of the debate and throughout the evening, and Fox News Channel will have a similar presence on the Strip.

UNLV will be front and center and a backdrop for much of the media coverage, including the university’s nationally recognized programs in the arts, sciences and health sciences, hospitality, law and liberal arts. UNLV in many ways represents the modern-day university in America. We are different, daring and diverse. There is a renaissance taking place at the university as evident with capital projects and new or enhanced academic programs. And more than half of UNLV’s undergraduates come from racial or ethnic minority groups, consistently ranking it as one of the nation’s most diverse universities. What’s happening at UNLV is reflective of a trend occurring throughout Southern Nevada, the West and even nationally. And a presidential debate in Las Vegas provides the platform to discuss issues important to Nevada and the West.

But there are other benefits to hosting the debate. UNLV and the LVCVA share a vision to harness the power of the debate to engage students at all levels to learn. Approximately 1,000 UNLV students have volunteered to work the event and will have the opportunity to gain real, job-related experience from the debate. There also will be a debate (television) viewing event and related activities on the UNLV campus. Additionally, UNLV faculty have developed classes specific to the presidential debate for the fall semester in academic programs such as communications, political science, history and sociology. We also organized a comprehensive lecture series with national experts on debate-related topics.

And earlier this summer, UNLV and the LVCVA announced a partnership with the Clark County School District to develop courses in public policies, the election process and voter education within existing American history and U.S. government classes. High school and middle school debate teams around the Las Vegas Valley gathered with the nationally ranked UNLV debate team to view and analyze the first presidential debate. Students also have participated in an essay contest with the chance to win tickets to UNLV events, and even a $1,000 scholarship to the university.

The coming debate has energized the university campus. Preparations have required the skills of contractors and subcontractors as well as the collaboration and coordination among public service agencies. We are grateful for the efforts of all the individuals and organizations — including the UNLV and LVCVA teams — who have contributed to the production of the debate. It has been a communitywide effort and we are proud of everyone involved!

Throughout its history, Las Vegas has hosted signature events on the Las Vegas Strip and downtown on Fremont Street. In that same style, the Thomas & Mack Center opened in 1983 with a black-tie gala that featured Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Diana Ross. Las Vegas has evolved to host special events. No other city does it better. We hit a home run when securing the final 2016 presidential debate and we should seize this opportunity to showcase our community and be proud of our accomplishments. The debate at the Thomas & Mack Center will be another chapter in our storied history. This special event will be unlike any other we have ever hosted, and UNLV and Las Vegas will be on the world stage.

More information on the presidential debate can be found at or

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