Lawmakers tackle Raiders stadium request | RecordCourier.com

Lawmakers tackle Raiders stadium request

by Geoff Dornan
gdornan@nevadaappeal.com

Southern Nevada business luminaries turned out in force for the opening day of the 30th Special Session of the Nevada Legislature Monday morning describing the construction of the football stadium and expansion of the convention center as vital is Las Vegas is to stave off growing competition from other convention and tourist cities.

Steve Wynn told a joint session of the Assembly and Senate that the stadium is "the final cornerstone in the tourism industry in Nevada."

"This is an absolute dead-bang, winning opportunity," he said. "Approve it."

MGM Grand CEO Jim Murren said without the stadium and expanded convention center, Las Vegas could lose events like the annual Consumer Electronics Show. Murren pointed out that more than five million of Las Vegas's 35 million visitors last year were convention delegates.

"We now the entire community benefits when our convention center is full," he said.

Former Las Vegas Mayor Jan Jones Blackhurst dismissed charges that publicly funded stadiums don't pan out financially saying, "Well, stadiums in Cincinnati aren't stadiums in Las Vegas."

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Venetian Hotel CEO George Markantonis said the structure of the partnership is good.

"The public part is a fixed amount," he said. "Everything over that fixed amount will be paid by private investors."

He said his boss Sheldon Adelson "is making this investment into a stadium he won't own."

"Most things that come before you are problems that need solutions," said AFL-CIO boss Danny Thompson. "This is not a problem. This is a solution."

University of Nevada, Las Vegas President Len Jessup said for the school's football team, the stadium is a key to winning a spot in the Big 12 or Pac 12 football conferences. He said it also would help recruit athletes to the school and draw many more fans to Rebel home games.

But there were a lot of questions — primarily from democrats — when the stadium funding bill was presented in the Senate.

"What guarantees if there's another recession in Nevada do we have that this deal is going to be a success," Sen. Reuben Kihuen asked. "Why should we be paying for that stadium?"

He also questioned the size of the stadium pointing out that world class soccer only drew 25,000 people.

Kihuen said Oakland is still paying off the debt they incurred getting the Raiders to return to Oakland more than 20 years ago.

Newly appointed Sen. Julia Ratti of Sparks questioned why they used General Obligation bonds that put the state on the hook if revenues fall instead of revenue bonds. Governor's Office of Economic Development Director Steve Hill said GO bonds have more security and get a lower interest rate. Ratti also questioned whether the stadium would generate enough revenue to pay its yearly maintenance and upkeep costs.

Hill said losses also would be on the backs of the developers.

"They have agreed to stand behind operational losses of the stadium," he said.

Longtime Southern Nevada financial consultant Guy Hobbs pointed out that other revenues in the stadium are not pledged to the bonds, just the Clark County room tax revenues. He also said they are requiring a two year reserve instead of the standard one year to ensure a temporary downturn in the economy wouldn't leave the stadium unable to make its bond payments.

Democrat Mark Manendo and Republican Mark Liparelli both questioned how much UNLV would have to pay to use the stadium and, joined by Democratic Sen. Aaron Ford, whether UNLV would have priority for its stadium dates and not get bumped by a major event, such as a concert.

Jessup told them NFL games are played mostly on Sunday while major concerts and other events are mostly on Friday or Saturday night. He said UNLV would much prefer to play its games Saturday during the day so there would likely not be any conflicts.

Kihuen also protested the fact that, after a daylong series of presenters backing the plan, Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, provided just an hour of public comment — mostly from opponents. Roberson promised there would be another public comment period at 8 a.m. today.

Senate Bill 1 would direct the issuance of $750 million in General Obligation bonds to help finance the $1.9 billion domed stadium designed to seat 65,000 people. Another $650 million would come from Las Vegas Sands owner Adelson and the remaining $500 million from the Davis family — owners of the Raiders football team.

Because the bill mandates imposition of the room tax hike to pay for the bonds, it will require a two-thirds majority in each house of the Legislature.

The public share of the stadium cost would be backed by a 0.88 percent increase in the Clark County room tax for Strip resorts, a half percent for those resorts and hotels within 25 miles of the Clark County offices. Hotels outside that circle wouldn't see an increase.

Tourists pay a 12 percent hotel room tax. They would pay about $1.50 more per night on the average nightly Strip hotel bill if both proposals pass.

NFL owners would have to vote by a three-fourths majority to allow the Raiders to move from Oakland to Las Vegas. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has said he prefers to keep the team in the Bay Area, while the team's owner, Mark Davis, said he's serious about moving the team.