Speaking of money (surely someone was?), your state of Nevada recently awarded a Dallas-area consulting firm 375,000 American dollars to conduct a feasibility study on a new UNLV stadium.
Money might be better spent studying how UNLV can attract billions of dollars in research investment that will transform the local economy. But I digress.
Following a clear-eyed reckoning of economic challenges facing sports facilities, the consulting firm’s feasibility study could determine that a flashy new stadium is not, you know, economically feasible.
Ha! Just kidding.
The consulting firm, Conventions, Sports & Leisure International, is not in business to tell people who want to build stuff not to build it.
A couple years ago, a Boston Globe story on sporting and events center consultants and featuring CSL International found the firm routinely advises clients to build or expand. “Consultants always say there is this untapped potential out there,” Competitive Enterprise Institute analyst Marc Scribner told the Globe, but those consultants “are consistently wrong.”
That’s because stadiums, arenas and other special events complexes are notorious for failing to meet economic projections. They run at deficits, can compromise the credit ratings of public entities and, pretty regularly, taxpayers end up bailing them out.
When UNLV officials originally announced that what Las Vegas needs more than anything else in the whole wide world is a football field surrounded by chain restaurants and stores packed with logo-laden apparel, it did so in cahoots with with Majestic Realty, an LA commercial developer. Beautiful drawings and scale models quickly activated the edifice complex latent in every system of higher education.
But then our area transnational gambling/resort corporations, in an uncharacteristic instance of paying attention to the university in their own back yard, told UNLV that the chance of the Strip supporting a project that might somehow compete with Strip-owned venues was in fact twofold: slim, and fat.
So UNLV abruptly told Majestic to get lost. UNLV President Neal Smatresk, who has also decided to get lost, gleefully threw in with the Strip masters, who in turn provided the imprimatur to get the rest of Nevada’s political-industrial complex in on the act. Now there’s even a special Board of Rosy Thoughts about Football Stadiums (that might not be its real name), stacked with Strip representatives, as per the approval of elected officials, and headed by Don Snyder, who had been headed UNLV’s project leader in the Majestic scheme.
Snyder is revered as the beloved catalyst behind development of the Smith Center, though he also deserves recognition for acquiring Coast Resorts while President of Boyd Gaming, thus securing the latter company a major presence in the neighborhood casino market’s wildly successful revenue model wherein a critical mass of problem and pathological gamblers relentlessly belly up to video poker machines.
But I digress.
Smatresk & Snyder may have planned all along to just use the Majestic proposal as leverage to scare up some interest from the Strip and get it’s wheeler-dealers on board a stadium project, and if so goodness wouldn’t that rank as an impressive instance of conniving jiggery-pokery?
Another school of thought holds that the Strip masters were always a hell of a lot more interested in shutting down the UNLV/Majestic scheme than they will ever be in helping UNLV build a stadium (let alone helping UNLV in any other way, say, making significant contributions to the university’s foundation). Under that scenario, Smatresk dumped Majestic because Smatresk got rolled. Snyder too, which just goes to show that popular mythology to the contrary notwithstanding, businessmen, as a species, may not in point of fact possess “real world” cognitive skills vastly superior to those of mere public servants such as, say, a university president with a pleasant demeanor.
There’s no denying, by the way, that Smatresk is a nice guy. As the process unfolds to replace him, the community should remember that “nice” probably isn’t the trait most in demand for a university president in Las Vegas America. Maybe we should look for one of those horrible union “thugs” that the right is always nattering on about.
But again, I digress.
On the bright side, where I’m always looking, there is some possibility that the Strip poohbahs are in fact first and foremost interested in thwarting the development of any project that presents even a hint of competition. Maybe they won’t sign off on an over-priced gold-plated stadium (is there any other kind?), especially if it involves them putting up any money. Yes, that $375,000 paid to a foregone-conclusion-friendly Texas consulting firm will have been squandered down a rathole but at least the public wouldn’t have to pick up the tab when overstated projections don’t pan out on a shiny, giant, world-class and hardly-ever-used place for young men from around the nation to give each other concussions every other autumn Saturday.
Alas, just as if not more likely, the Strip will sign off on some scheme that diverts public finances to a stadium from other, already underfunded public goods. No doubt the scheme will also stick the public with the cost overruns and unanticipated maintenance charges that routinely accompany the development of sports complexes. Inevitably someone, probably a businessman, will point to the mess as a reason to curb public support for higher education in Nevada.
And if this thing does get built, don’t be surprised if public money somehow lands in the coffers of your area megaresort operators. Don’t blame them. They’ve got a fiduciary responsibility to take from the community, not give back to it.
HUGH JACKSON’S column runs every other week.