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Stadium plan to lure Raiders to Las Vegas passes major vote

Raiders Stadium Rendering

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 Thursday, Sept. 15, 2016 | 6:10 p.m.

Cross a check off developers’ to-do list for building an NFL stadium in Las Vegas and poaching the Oakland Raiders, giving the city its first mega-events center and professional football team.

Las Vegas Sands Corp., Majestic Realty Co. and the Raiders initially proposed the project, calling for a hefty public contribution that became central to the months-long debate. The group charged with vetting tourism-related projects approved on Thursday a recommendation favored by the developers that includes $750 million in public money and no profit-sharing provision.

The next step: The Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee will send its recommendation to Gov. Brian Sandoval, who could call a special legislative session to approve the estimated $1.9-billion project. The stadium also would serve as the home for UNLV’s football team.

“This is an exciting and momentous day,” said Andy Abboud, senior vice president of government relations and community development for Las Vegas Sands. “(We) look forward to having similar discussions with the 63 members of the Legislature.”

The recommendation

The committee unanimously voted to approve an agreement that would require a $750 million contribution from the public, not one capped at 39 percent of the total project cost, as some had suggested. It also doesn’t include any sort of profit-sharing provision; instead, the developers would receive all profits generated by the stadium.

Private developers and the football team would pitch in $650 million and $500 million, respectively, to fund the remaining portion of the 65,000-seat, domed stadium, which Sands officials say could host collegiate bowl games, basketball tournaments, professional soccer matches and large touring concerts, among other events.

A hike in the Clark County hotel room tax would fund the public’s portion of the bill. It would increase by 0.88 percent in the main gaming corridor and 0.5 percent in the outlying areas.

Heading into today’s meeting, the infrastructure committee also needed to sort out the makeup of the stadium authority board and whether the NFL stadium project would be exempt from new or expanded industry-specific taxes.

The committee opted to recommend a seven-member stadium authority board to govern the publicly owned facility. It would include three members appointed by the governor, two appointed by the County Commission and three appointed by members of the stadium authority to represent the public at large.

Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, who’s a member of the committee, had advocated for a nine-member board with city representation, but her bid didn’t muster enough votes among her colleagues.

The group also chose not to add language to their draft recommendation that would exempt the NFL stadium project from any new or expanded industry-specific taxes. Committee members feared the same gesture would need to be extended to the NHL as well.

Proponents still need to win over the governor, the Legislature and three-quarters of NFL owners to make the project a reality, but it’s a significant milestone for a city that’s never had a professional football team and has been working on the Raiders deal for months.

The committee’s recommendation is essentially draft language of a bill the Nevada Legislature could adopt to finalize the deal. The governor could call a special legislative session to consider the proposal.

“This was not taken lightly,” said Clark County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak, who sits on the infrastructure committee. “We put in a tremendous amount of time and effort to reach what we feel is an appropriate recommendation to the Legislature.”

Sisolak was the most vocal committee member during the final run-through of details — at one point forcing a private huddle with developers because he wanted them to commit to a $650 million contribution. (Language to that effect will be worked into the draft.)

Some pushback and new hurdles

The four-hour meeting began with robust fanfare in the typical Las Vegas fashion. Raiders cheerleaders posed for photographs with attendees, and members of the UNLV football team showed up post-practice to pledge their support for the deal.

Even so, the mayor of Oakland, Calif., has not given up her fight to keep the team there. Shortly after the meeting ended, Mayor Libby Schaaf released a statement that, in part, threw shade at the public financing portion of the committee’s recommendation.

“As mayor of Oakland, it’s my job to remain fully focused on what I can do to responsibly keep the team where they belong, here in Oakland,” she wrote. “While Nevada lawmakers consider making the largest public investment in a private stadium deal in history by approving a $750 million public subsidy for a facility in Las Vegas, I will continue to work with the NFL and the Raiders’ designee Larry McNeil to iron out a deal that works for the team, the league, the fans and the taxpayers in Oakland.”

The public financing has irked some community members, including Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, who spoke out against it during the public comment portion of the meeting.

“I support the stadium but not the public financing,” she said. “No publicly financed stadium in the United States has benefited the public … I still don’t understand what the rush is.”

Per Giunchigliani’s request this afternoon, the Clark County Commission will receive a report about the stadium proposal and discuss it Tuesday during the board’s regular meeting.

Meanwhile, steps have been taken to fill vacant spots in the Nevada Legislature, signaling a likely special session. Sisolak has called a special commission meeting Wednesday morning to appoint representatives in Nevada Assembly District 1 — a position vacated by former Assemblywoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick, who’s now a county commissioner — and in Nevada Assembly District 5 — a spot vacated by former Assemblyman Erven Nelson.

“I will begin my review of the committee’s recommendations and will also begin discussions with legislative leadership, local stakeholders, and my cabinet to clarify any outstanding questions,” Sandoval said in a statement after the meeting. “I will not move forward until all questions have been resolved.”

The stadium proposal won’t be the only recommendation sent to the governor. The infrastructure committee also is recommending tax increases to fund Metro Police and expand and renovate the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Remaining unknowns

Still unclear is where the stadium would be located. The developers have narrowed the locations to two sites — acreage immediately west of Interstate 15 and north of Russell Road, and land now occupied by the Bali Hai golf course.

Southwest Airlines, the largest carrier serving McCarran International Airport, has expressed concerns about the proximity of any stadium to the runways. Earlier this summer, the airline’s executives wrote a letter to Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak outlining their objections to building a stadium on UNLV-owned land just north of the airport, saying it could obstruct pilots’ vision. They have similar concerns regarding the Bali Hai site.

“From the Southwest point of view, the proposed football stadium site on the I-15 and Russell Road is more suitable and desirable than previously proposed sites due to their close proximity to the end of the runways,” Southwest spokesman Dan Landson said in a statement. “Our primary concern is viewed through the lens of safety for our employees and customers as they land or take off on more than 210 flights a day at McCarran International Airport.”

The stadium’s location was not discussed in depth during today’s meeting. The group, however, did touch on economic projections again.

The infrastructure committee staff released its own economic analysis, which showed a stadium pumping $35 million worth of taxes into the local and state economy. The analysis pegs the annual economic output at $620 million — a figure that includes spending at the stadium, materials purchased for stadium operations and people employed at the stadium who will, in turn, spend their salaries in the community.

The analysis was built on the presumption that stadium events could bring 450,000 visitors who wouldn’t have otherwise come to Las Vegas.

“I do believe these estimates are conservative,” said Jeremy Aguero of Applied Analysis, which has been helping the infrastructure committee craft policy and financial projections.

Stadium critics, however, have argued that economic estimates are overblown and just amount to a shift in spending. Multiple studies denouncing economic benefits derived from stadiums have fueled movements to halt public financing of such projects.

The developers of this project have insisted it’s different here because tourists largely will be assuming the public cost of the stadium via the hotel room tax.

Committee Chairman Steve Hill said the potential benefits of the stadium extend beyond UNLV and taxes generated, implying that a professional football team could be a matter of civic pride.

“You get an NFL team, and that is a significant step forward for Las Vegas and the community,” he said. “It is a ‘Good Housekeeping’ seal of approval for the community. Many of us have lived in cities that have professional sports teams. Those teams bring the community together.”

The Associated Press and Las Vegas Sun reporter Megan Messerly contributed to this report.

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