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Alan Snel

Nevadan at work: Finance exec's stadium work will help shape local sports

27 January 2014

LAS VEGAS -- Rick Arpin has made a career in finance and accounting. And he enjoys sports and spending time in arenas and stadiums.

So, coordinating construction activity for the MGM Resorts International-AEG arena on the Strip behind New York-New York while also serving on the University of Nevada, Las Vegas stadium board is right in Arpin’s sweet spot.

Arpin, a 41-year-old Las Vegas native, is MGM Resorts’ senior vice president-corporate controller, overseeing a shared finance department of about 330 employees.

He’s also working on the company’s new $350 million, 20,000-seat arena, which is supposed to open in 2016.

Arpin has been working on the arena project for years and said surviving the Great Recession was one of his biggest challenges.

“Many of us worked long, frustrating hours, as everything we tried seemed to fail. We also felt a heavy burden because we care about our employees and their families and we didn’t want to let them down,” Arpin said. “We had a talented and extremely dedicated team, and were able to get a few breaks and ultimately resolve our liquidity issues. And now our company is much stronger and on sound financial footing.”

Arpin has strong Las Vegas roots. He grew up here, attended Chaparral High School and earned a UNLV degree in accounting and finance,

Arpin’s arena work is crucial for UNLV’s stadium evaluation process because few of the 11 members on the UNLV panel have stadium construction experience. Arpin can talk arena square-footage costs and knows what concrete and steel are selling for these days. The UNLV stadium board must evaluate the need, size, cost and funding of an on-campus stadium and submit a report to the state Legislature by Sept. 30.

After working for Arthur Andersen from 1995-2002, Arpin joined MGM in 2002. He has worked on other major deals besides the arena, such as the company’s sale of Treasure Island.

He said MGM’s partnership with AEG is an ideal alignment because of the companies’ similar work cultures.

“We see ourselves as strong partners in more than just this building,” Arpin said.

The arena does not have an National Basketball Association or National Hockey League tenant, but the building is being designed to meet pro basketball and hockey specifications. Arpin said he sees the arena staging extreme sports events, awards shows and concerts.

Because the economy has ups and downs, Arpin stresses planning. Though it’s easy to spend during boom times, also plan for the economic dips, too, he said.

“The scenario you picked for steady growth might not be the only scenario,” Arpin said in a recent interview at MGM offices, which will be demolished this year as part of the arena project. “Be thoughtful of planning. A down cycle can happen. … Companies that have the longest memory of 2008 will be the biggest winners.”

Arpin will be a guest speaker addressing stadium and arena issues at the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Hashtags &Headlines policy luncheon 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Feb. 24 at Texas Station.

Question: What has been the biggest surprise for you in financing and building MGM’s new arena?

Answer: How difficult a job it is to be a designer and architect, so many things impact many other things that it is just a complicated puzzle. Also, how much variation there can be in cost for sports facilities that seem to be similar.

Question: Everyone seems to be an expert on stadiums and arenas in this town. Why do these sports and entertainment buildings stir so much emotion and interest?

Answer: I don’t think it is just our town. I think there has been a lot of this around the country in the past 20 years as many new facilities have been built.

Question: What specific lessons learned from the MGM arena are you bringing to the table as a member of the UNLV stadium board?

Answer: I have learned an amazing amount about how these buildings are designed and built to maximize the fan experience, and the revenue opportunities within a facility like this, so hopefully I can leverage some of that knowledge to help us come to a good recommendation as a board.

Question: MGM issued a statement last year saying UNLV’s proposed $900 million “megaevents center” was too costly for the Las Vegas community to afford. So what happens if the UNLV stadium board consultant recommends a stadium with that price?

Answer: As a board member, I am keeping an open mind about the scope and scale of the project and will consider all options. I know that cost and funding are key elements that must be considered, given the fiscal realities that the university and community still face, so I will be looking to ensure we consider the cost/value equation when we evaluate options.

Question: What is your favorite stadium or arena and why?

Answer: For stadium, it’s Sports Authority Field at Mile High, because I am a Denver Broncos fan and because the stadium still literally shakes when the crowd gets going. Wrigley Field is a close second. For arena, I love Madison Square Garden because of the history, but obviously being from Las Vegas I have amazing memories in both the Thomas &Mack Center and MGM Grand Garden arena. I can’t wait to have a great modern facility in Las Vegas, but those two arenas have stood the test of time.

Question: While a MGM arena and UNLV stadium are different sizes, there could be a chance they might compete for some limited number of events. How do you keep your interests separate as an MGM employee and a UNLV stadium board member?

Answer: As someone who has lived in Las Vegas all my life and as a UNLV alum, I am here to represent my university and my community. My role and experience at MGM Resorts is a great asset since I have expertise (and resources) related to financing, construction and entertainment. I am also proud of my affiliation with MGM Resorts — as the largest employer in Nevada, we are all keenly aware that positive developments in the community can have a big impact on us as well.

Question: With the arena opening in 2016, MGM will have an impressive inventory of sports/entertainment venues. Do you think MGM will have enough programming to make all the buildings financially viable?

Answer: I am very bullish about the entertainment, sports and other opportunities for our facilities and other facilities in this market. Las Vegas is a unique destination, with an incredible set of assets (hotel rooms, convention facilities, other infrastructure) that event organizers appreciate.

Question: What is the most fascinating thing about planning and building an arena?

Answer: I have been incredibly impressed with the creativity and skill and attitude with which those in this industry go about their job, from the architects to the contractors to the sales teams to the operators. These are some of the best people I have met in any line of work.
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