MGM chief: Don’t divert room taxes from convention center to UNLV stadium

Jim Murren, chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts International, addresses the crowd during the Metro Chamber of Commerce annual Preview Las Vegas event Friday, Jan. 29, 2016, at Cox Pavilion.

MGM Resorts International CEO Jim Murren said today he’s not opposed to a stadium plan backed by one of his competitors, as long as it doesn’t use hotel room tax revenue that would otherwise support an expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Speaking to reporters after he addressed the Preview Las Vegas event, Murren said his company had long been supportive of a stadium at UNLV, which rival casino operator Las Vegas Sands Corp. said this week it was getting behind. Murren was comfortable with the idea of that stadium competing with his company’s forthcoming arena on the Strip, but he stressed that it should be built in a fiscally responsible way.

“Before we jump into a billion-dollar behemoth, we should evaluate what is in the best interest of the total community and how it gets funded,” Murren said after his speech at Preview, the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce’s annual networking and trade show gathering.

The vision supported by Las Vegas Sands entails a $1 billion, 65,000-seat stadium at a 42-acre lot recently purchased by UNLV on Tropicana Avenue and Koval Lane. The stadium could be home to UNLV’s football team as well as various entertainment and athletic events — maybe even NFL games. The Oakland Raiders are reportedly eyeing the site as a possible new home.

2016 Preview Las Vegas

Dag Reckhorn, VP of Global Manufacturing for Faraday Future, speaks during the Metro Chamber of Commerce annual Preview Las Vegas event in the Cox Pavilion on Friday, January 29, 2016. Launch slideshow »

Las Vegas Sands would probably team up with other investors to fund the stadium, but it may also ask for public money such as room taxes, the Associated Press reported.

The room tax part wouldn’t go over well with Murren, based on his comments today.

“We will not support room taxes being diverted to a stadium when we have this just tremendous, tremendous, dire need at our convention center. And without that convention center improvement, we can forget about Las Vegas growing,” he said. “Let’s go to the must-haves before we go to the nice-to-haves. And if we can do both, I’m all for it.”

Murren wasn’t opposed to any tax revenue going toward the stadium project. He was open to using live entertainment taxes or creating a special tax district around the stadium.

But he clearly viewed the convention center as the top priority and did not want to see the stadium get in the way of funding that.

The convention center project involves eventually building a new facility on the site of the shuttered Riviera hotel-casino, which the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority bought last year. The existing facility, located just across Paradise Road from the Riviera site, will also be revamped.

Backers say the convention center expansion is necessary because the current facility is aging and if it doesn’t grow, Las Vegas could lose valuable business to other cities. The project would likely need public funds.

Las Vegas Sands has been critical of the project, arguing that tax money should not be used to support something that competes with the private sector. The company operates the Sands Expo and Convention Center.

But Murren’s company has a big convention business, too, particularly at Mandalay Bay, and Murren spoke forcefully today in support of the Las Vegas Convention Center expansion.

“I am not sympathetic to the point that we shouldn’t fund a convention center because it will provide competition to the private sector. I am the private sector. Bring it on — make us all grow and do better,” Murren said to applause when he spoke at Preview.

Both the convention center and potential stadium projects will be influenced by the work of the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee. That group, convened last year by Gov. Brian Sandoval, has been meeting for months and will submit a report about the region’s infrastructure needs this summer.