Thursday, May 2, 2013 | 2 a.m.
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This year, when the Thomas & Mack Center turns 30 years old, UNLV officials know exactly what present they want to get the building that brings more than $200 million annually to the local economy, according to a 2012 economic impact report.
The university has proposed a $60 million renovation plan to remodel or replace many fixtures that make up the arena that’s home to UNLV basketball, Wrangler National Finals Rodeo and Professional Bull Riders events, and numerous shows throughout the year.
Unlike the renovation in 1999 that consisted of mostly superficial upgrades, this proposal contains an overall update to many components that have helped run the building since 1983. While not tied directly to the proposed UNLV Now mega-events center, “this was really part of that,” said Gerry Bomotti, UNLV’s senior vice president for finance and business.
“We always saw this district having a renovated Thomas & Mack, the new mega-events center and the student village,” he said.
Although UNLV Now is in some murky waters, the Mack proposal is moving forward. On April 19, the Board of Regents approved $47.5 million of the $59.21 million plan and recommended it to the Nevada Legislature, which must approve the proposal before UNLV would see any funds.
Originally built for $30 million, the Mack has since undergone several upgrades and renovations, totaling at least $29 million. The university is asking the state to allocate tax revenue from slot machines to support the new proposal. The same revenue stream helped build both the Mack and UNR’s Lawlor Events Center, and also was used for most of the Mack updates, including the 1999 renovations that refurbished the concourse, added bathrooms and revamped the main entrance, among other things.
The contract for the NFR, one of the biggest and most consistent moneymakers in town, is set to expire in 2014 and officials from Las Vegas Events are currently working on a 10-year extension, which could be announced this summer. A guarantee that the Mack would be renovated by the end of the next contract would go a long way in those negotiations.
That’s one incentive, and then there’s the overall economic impact of events that roll through the Mack throughout the year — events UNLV wants to make sure keep coming back. Dr. Mark Rosentraub, an expert on the economics of arenas and stadiums from the University of Michigan’s Center for Sport Management, wrote a 2012 economic impact report about the effect of the Mack on the local economy.
“Out-of-town visitors attending events at the Thomas & Mack Center have spent more than $200 million at Las Vegas’ hotels, casinos and retail outlets each year,” Rosentraub wrote. "The tourists attending events at the Thomas & Mack Center annually generate approximately $18 million in tax revenues for Nevada and Clark County governments and the LVCVA.”
The UNLV athletic department also gets $7 million to $8 million annually in net revenue from Sam Boyd Stadium, Cox Pavilion and the Mack, with the bulk coming from the latter. The department relies on that revenue, which is another incentive for UNLV to maintain the Mack.
If it passes through the Legislature before the end of the session June 3, UNLV could get the funds as soon as September or October of 2014. From there, “we’re talking 24-30 months for the project,” Bomotti said. “Not because it’s so complicated, just because we have to operate the facility while we do these renovations.”
What would those proposed renovations look like? Here's a look at the changes would take effect at the Mack and a cost breakdown of the proposed improvements:
For anyone who may have missed a crucial shot or their favorite song while waiting in an impossibly long line for the restrooms, this is probably the most important proposed change to the Mack experience.
“We’re way short on bathrooms, especially for women,” Bomotti said.
Many of the discussed changes involve fixing the problem of overcrowding at certain key spots, including the concourse restrooms. This would start with the addition of more bathrooms, possibly to the west of the main entrance, around the tunnel that players enter. There’s room there for more structure, which would include more stalls.
Bomotti said the original expectation that the Mack events would be a male-dominated crowd hasn’t proved entirely accurate, leading to the shortage in women’s restrooms. This part of the proposal includes improvements to the existing bathrooms, and it’s tied to the plumbing costs, as some piping may need to be replaced, plus the cost of new systems for the new facilities.
Widening the entire concourse, which measures about 30 feet in most non-entrance areas, would be nearly impossible. However, the plan does call for some manipulation that would alleviate issues of overcrowding, Bomotti said.
“There are a couple of areas where we can expand the concourse to relieve some of the pressure,” he said.
This would include moving some of the food and beverage retailers that line the entrance areas, creating larger open areas. That, combined with shorter lines at bathrooms and another expanded entrance, would curb most overcrowding issues, UNLV believes.
Part of the proposal also includes updating the flooring and signs around the concourse, which also was part of the 1999 renovations. That’s one of the few potential changes that would be immediately noticeable to frequent Mack patrons.
The escalators leading up to the front façade and the Thomas & Mack Center sign make finding the main entrance very easy. It also creates unnecessary congestion out front while people often ignore other entrances, Bomotti said.
The proposal would add escalators and other alterations to the east entrance in between the Mack and Cox Pavilion. In addition to moving people away from one central location outside, Bomotti said, this would help with concourse issues, as there’s plenty of space and bathrooms already located just inside those doors.
Another proposed outside alteration is new roofing.
If the 1999 renovation was a facelift, this proposal is invasive surgery into the building’s guts. Most of the proposed changes aren’t the “bells and whistles” that patrons would notice when they walk in the building.
“Major mechanical, electrical and plumbing — when you look at those systems for any building, those make up the bulk of the cost,” Bomotti said.
That’s true of UNLV’s proposal, which estimates $21.8 million of the funding to be spent on improvements or replacements to those systems, many of them 30 years old.
There have been upgrades along the way, especially to the electrical systems that must keep up with the high-definition needs of the broadcast trucks and shows that come through. But to make the Mack as sustainable and up-to-date as possible going forward, these updates are going to have to happen sooner or later, Bomotti said.
In order to meet the 2010 Americans with Disabilities Act Standard for Accessible Design, UNLV must add more handicapped-accessible seating and alter other things to meet code. More seating means more handicapped parking spots outside of the Mack, most likely in the first couple of rows of what’s currently student or staff parking.
Bomotti estimated there are less than 100 accessible seats at the Mack. The plan is to increase that by a couple of hundred, depending on how all of the plans work out.
The changes would likely affect the Mack’s overall capacity. Currently, a sellout at a men’s basketball game is 18,577.
“At the end of the day, to make these changes, you end up with a few less seats than we have right now,” Bomotti said. “It’s not an enormous number, but there are a few hundred seats less.”
The proposal also calls for new arena seating, fire and smoke system upgrades, refurbished locker rooms at both the Mack and Cox Pavilion, a sound system replacement and a new exhaust fan system.
The seating would include both the lower and upper bowl, cost permitting. The locker rooms are for home and away teams plus the extras that are used when shows come to the Mack. The Cox locker rooms are for women’s basketball.
For this proposal, the university worked with local architecture firm Klai Juba, which worked with several experts to come up with the cost estimates. UNLV has thus far paid $88,000 of an agreed $200,000 for the consulting work. Here are those estimates in full:
ADA improvements: $4,300,000
Accessible parking improvements: $130,000
Concourse restroom improvements: $5.2 million
Smoke control system/fire & life safety improvements: $3.3 million
Roofing: $2.5 million
Arena seating: $8.3 million
Mechanical, plumbing, electrical improvements/replacements: $21.8 million
Sound system replacement: $2.2 million
Concourse circulation/movement improvements: $2.8 million
Concourse renovations (flooring, finishes, signage, etc.): $2.8 million
Additional portals to improve access: $1.6 million
Subtotal: $42 million
Refurbish locker rooms (Thomas & Mack Center): $3.5 million
Refurbish locker rooms (Cox Pavilion): $700,000
Exhaust fan system: $80,000
The grand total is about the same as the total funds put into the building in the past 30 years, including the original $30 million. Although that may seem like a lot, Bomotti said, it’s cheaper than the alternative.
“It’s not feasible for us to renovate this into something that looks like the Staples Center,” he said. “You’d have to tear the whole thing down and build a new one.”