Dueling polls show public support for convention center, stadium

Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority

An artist’s rendering of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority’s planned expansion and renovation of the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Debate about whether public money should support an expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center or the construction of a new football stadium on land owned by UNLV heated up today with the release of two polls that attempt to bolster both cases.

On one side, Global Strategy Group said it found that a “commanding majority” of Nevadans want to see room tax revenues fund the $1.4 billion expansion and renovation of the convention center.

On the other side, Morning Consult said an “overwhelming majority” of Nevadans back plans for a retractable-roof stadium and the idea of relocating an NFL team to the Las Vegas area.

The release of the two polls comes a day before the influential Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee is scheduled to meet and hear details about the stadium plan, which is supported by Las Vegas Sands Corp. and Majestic Realty Co.

The committee is charged with vetting the Las Vegas area’s need for various tourism-related infrastructure projects, and it will submit recommendations to Gov. Brian Sandoval later this year.

Backers of both the stadium and the convention center projects have indicated a desire to receive at least some public money, with Clark County room taxes being the likely source.

The Global Strategy Group poll was funded by MGM Resorts International, while the Morning Consult poll was conducted on behalf of Las Vegas Sands. The two companies have generally been on opposite sides of the convention center-stadium debate, and they both have representatives on the infrastructure committee.

Las Vegas Sands has maintained that public money should not support the convention center project, because the company has said that would compete with the private sector..

MGM Resorts, meanwhile, has come out strongly in support of the convention center, with CEO Jim Murren stating emphatically that he does not want to see room taxes diverted from that project in favor of the stadium.

The polls today provide fodder for both companies’ arguments heading into tomorrow’s key meeting.

In a memo discussing the findings of its poll, Global Strategy Group drew a contrast between what voters wanted when they had to pick either the stadium or the convention center.

“When confronted with the possibility that only one economic development project can be funded through the room tax, voters prefer that the convention center expansion move forward over the publicly-subsidized construction of an NFL-quality stadium in Las Vegas by a clear, double-digit margin,” the memo said.

“Voters across the state see the convention center as a more worthwhile use of public funding, and support for using room tax revenues to fund the convention center is particularly strong among voters closest to the issue in Clark County,” the memo said.

Specifically, the memo said that after hearing about the convention center plans and the idea of using room taxes, 67 percent of state voters supported moving forward and 25 percent were opposed. In Clark County, support was higher, with 71 percent backing the plans and 24 percent opposing them.

Furthermore, Global Strategy Group said Nevada voters preferred to see room tax revenue support the convention center expansion instead of the football stadium project by a 13-point margin. In Clark County, the margin grew to 18 points.

The memo also said 57 percent of Nevada voters felt the convention center plan had “clear public benefits,” while just 25 percent felt that way about the stadium.

Similarly, 52 percent supported the convention center as a “good use of taxpayer dollars” compared to 26 percent for the stadium, and 63 percent said the convention center was a “safe investment” of public money compared to 17 percent who described the stadium that way, according to Global Strategy Group.

Global Strategy Group surveyed 800 likely voters in the 2016 general election between March 9 and March 13. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.5 percent, and the firm said “care has been taken to ensure the geographic and demographic divisions of the expected electorate are properly represented based on past voter turnout statistics.”

Mandalay Bay President Chuck Bowling, who is also vice chairman of the convention authority’s board, characterized the poll as an important indicator of which project residents would support if they had to choose between them. Mandalay Bay is owned by MGM Resorts and includes one of the resort corridor’s main convention centers.

Bowling said in an interview that it was “obviously very clear to us, and not surprising” that voters supported expanding the convention center. He suggested that it wasn’t realistic to expect that a stadium could also be funded by tourism taxes.

“If two billionaires want to go and build it with their own money, I’d be the first one to stand at the front door and shake their hand,” Bowling said.

A statement released by Morning Consult about its poll, on the other hand, came to different conclusions. Morning Consult did not mention the convention center in its statement, instead referring only to the stadium and the prospect of bringing an NFL team to Las Vegas.

Morning Consult said its poll found that 67 percent of Nevada voters backed relocating an NFL team to Las Vegas, and 62 percent supported building a “new retractable roof stadium for football and other events” in the area.

“There is majority support for a new stadium among men and women alike, across all age groups, and at all income levels,” the Morning Consult statement said. “Moreover, nearly six in 10 (55%) Nevadans are more likely to support building a new stadium if much of the funding comes from a room-tax paid by visitors.”

Morning Consult said 71 percent of voters felt the stadium would create jobs, while 70 percent thought it would increase tourism and 64 percent said it would improve the economy.

The firm surveyed 795 registered voters in Nevada from March 16 to March 22, and it also had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent.

Presentation materials from Las Vegas Sands and Majestic Realty, which were posted online in advance of Thursday’s infrastructure panel meeting, state that the two companies have “joined together in a collaborative partnership to fill a void in the Las Vegas brand offering.” The presentation says the enclosed stadium they propose would seat at least 65,000 people and would be “positioned to entertain an immediate relocation of an NFL franchise to Las Vegas.”

The presentation also says the project would cost an estimated $1.3 billion and would require legislative action. It further indicates that construction would start in late 2017, and the stadium would open in the second half of 2020.