A Dream, a Dome and a Longhorn State of Mind

Craig Cavileer, the president of the Silverton Casino Lodge, has lived in Las Vegas since 1998, and for those dozen years he has lived at peace, more or less, with the fact that UNLV neither is nor aspires to be the University of Texas. Cavileer grew up in Austin, where life revolves around the university, the university is energized by its athletic program, and students and townies mingle on funky University District avenues.

Last year, as American capital began to shake off the sediments of two years in underground hiding, the youthful, dynamic Cavileer and his seasoned billionaire boss, Ed Roski, decided there was an opportunity to inject a bit of Austin into 150 acres on the west end of the UNLV campus.

As developer Michael Saltman and former UNLV President Carol Harter found out several years ago with their attempt to create a university district along Maryland Parkway called Midtown UNLV, it’s no easy thing to seed these soils with visionary urbanism. But Cavileer’s Longhorn nostalgia and Roski’s track record—this is the man responsible for Los Angeles’ Staples Center and its surrounding retail, entertainment, residential and hotel district—just may capture the public imagination. For one thing, Cavileer and Roski would be dealing with one landowner—UNLV—rather than the patchwork of owners the in-limbo Midtown project had to contend with. For another thing, they have as the centerpiece of their plan a 40,000-seat domed stadium.

The Cavileer-Roski vision would bring 3,000 residential units to UNLV’s campus—units UNLV President Neal Smatresk admits the school could not possibly build on its own. The Thomas & Mack Center would remain, allowing the university to double-book events. The erstwhile Thomas & Mack parking lot, meanwhile, would be filled with student housing, parking structures, and a Town Square-style retail development. The proposal sounds more pre-recession Vegas than Bohemian Austin—Smatresk actually uttered the syllables “Abercrombie”—but everything comes at a price.

Ah, the price: Still unknown, but Cavaleer says the project will not use public funding. First, the hurdles: On Feb. 11, Roski’s Majestic Realty will ask the university regents’ permission to negotiate a lease for the land. Next, Majestic would ask the state Legislature to create an enterprise district; taxes generated by the development would be used to help cover its costs. Then the real work would begin. And no one’s saying when it would end.

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