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November 27, 2014

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higher education:

UNLV must scramble to save $25 million gift, hotel building

Harrah’s donation must be matched this year, and state says it isn’t in position to help

Beyond the Sun

A new academic building for UNLV’s prestigious hotel college is in jeopardy despite the Harrah’s Foundation’s offer to cover $25 million of the price tag.

The problem is that the total cost is an estimated $50 million, and the bulk of the Harrah’s Foundation’s $25 million gift will be made good only if the university raises another $25 million by the end of 2009.

UNLV officials had hoped to secure the additional funding from the state, but Gov. Jim Gibbons did not include money for the hotel college project in his 2009-11 capital improvement program budget.

Jim Rogers, chancellor of Nevada’s public higher education system, said system officials had called Gibbons’ office to urge him to fund the hotel college building. Rogers expressed frustration at the exclusion, saying it sends philanthropists the message that “the state doesn’t even have an interest in matching the dollars that donors send.”

“That’s not a good message to be sending to anybody these days,” Rogers said.

The state legislature, of course, could reverse the governor’s decision. Its leaders have already said the final budget will be vastly different from Gibbons’ proposal.

Lobbying for the hotel college building, which was sixth on the higher education system’s list of capital improvement priorities for the next biennium, has begun.

UNLV President David Ashley talked about the importance of the $25 million match at a Monday town hall meeting on campus and at a Tuesday legislative hearing on the budget.

If lawmakers can’t find $25 million for the facility, UNLV could obtain the money elsewhere — through fundraising, for example. But private money is scarce in today’s economy.

A UNLV campaign to raise $500 million was scheduled to end in December 2008, but the deadline was extended by a year after it became apparent university fundraisers would come up short of the goal.

Money raised in that campaign can’t be used to match Harrah’s gift; almost all of the campaign donations are earmarked, at donors’ request, for specific purposes such as scholarships, said Bill Boldt, vice president for university advancement.

Of the Harrah’s Foundation’s $25 million, UNLV has received $2.5 million for programming, design and project management of the hotel college building.

According to the memorandum of understanding that lays out the terms of the donation, the remaining $22.5 million will be paid by Harrah’s in three parts: when construction contracts are signed, when ground is broken and when construction is 50 percent complete.

•••

Even if federal stimulus dollars help state agencies balance their budgets, Nevadans and their legislators should continue discussing whether the state should raise taxes or find other ways to improve funding for public services, said Dan Klaich, executive vice chancellor of Nevada’s public higher education system.

He pointed out that while a stimulus would provide immediate relief, a one-time infusion of federal dollars would not solve the state’s long-term problems. The state, he said, cannot depend on the federal government to step in each time Nevada faces a budget shortfall.

“I don’t want us to get lulled to sleep because some federal dollars come to us,” Klaich said.

“While I think that it would be great if there were federal stimulus dollars, and I think it could be wonderful for the state of Nevada, I think we need to wrestle right now with the fact that we have some operational problems. ... One thing positive I can say for the situation that we’re in right now is that it seems to have focused everyone’s attention on some structural issues that we need to address.”

•••

Here’s one for the fiscal conservatives.

On Feb. 10, Rogers plans to issue a memo showing what the state’s colleges and Desert Research Institute have done to save money.

The chancellor said the memo will talk about changes the higher education system was making to become more efficient even before budget cuts were on the table.

“I don’t want to give the impression that we just took a look at costs the day that we (heard about) budget cuts, because we’ve been doing it all along,” Rogers said.

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