- Associated Press - Thursday, March 24, 2016

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Las Vegas Sands casino executives told a tourism panel Thursday that the $1.3 billion, NFL-ready stadium they want to build at UNLV could transform Las Vegas’ tourism sector, as long as officials are willing to put public money toward it.

Sands officials, consultants and developers from Majestic Realty spoke to the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee about the 65,000-seat, enclosed venue they want to see on the campus, hopefully shared between an NFL team and UNLV’s football squad. They acknowledged that landing a professional sports franchise is far from a done deal. But they noted they had been meeting with Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis about relocating and argued the idea was more than a fantasy.

“We’re dead serious about this,” said Robert Goldstein, president of the Sands, which is owned by billionaire Sheldon Adelson. “We may fail. We’re not saying this is simple. It’s complicated stuff, but it’s damn worth the effort.”

Company officials declined to offer specifics about how much public money they were seeking, although preliminary reports from the company indicated they wanted $780 million from sources such as a hotel room tax. Stadium consultant Mark Rosentraub predicted that the stadium could bring in $46 million in new tax revenue each year even if no NFL team came, and he asked committee members how much of an investment that was worth to them.

Critics said they are concerned that the project would divert limited room-tax dollars away from an ongoing effort to upgrade and expand the Las Vegas Convention Center. Representatives from MGM Resorts International, which is preparing to open a privately funded arena on the Las Vegas Strip, are wary of sending taxpayer money toward the project led by its competitor.

“We’ve got a world-class convention crowd that comes here, we don’t have a world-class facility, and we need one,” MGM President Bill Hornbuckle said. “We want to make sure this group stays focused on that.”

Landlocked UNLV has long sought a stadium closer to campus than Sam Boyd Stadium, where the football team plays seven miles away. It recently snatched up a 42-acre parcel near the campus, the airport and the Las Vegas Strip that could be used for the stadium or for a campus village with housing and academic buildings.

UNLV President Len Jessup spoke about what he called the tremendous opportunity that comes with the Sands’ proposal, saying it would elevate the school’s status and allow students better access to a college game-day experience.

School officials have long talked about building a stadium, but Jessup said the timing wasn’t right in the past because UNLV needed to focus on building a medical school and Las Vegas’ economy was still recovering from the recession. He said the school couldn’t do it alone and needed a public-private partnership to complete the project.

Committee members say they want to hear more details about stadium proponents’ financing plan, which is expected to come up in a meeting next month.

“There’s a lot of unanswered questions,” Clark County Commission Chair Steve Sisolak said. “We need to determine how much some of this is going to cost and how we’re going to raise this revenue, if it’s even possible.”

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