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Sandoval backs Renner amendment to expand film tax credit bill to Northern Nevada

Jacob Solis
Jacob Solis
Tabitha Mueller
Tabitha Mueller
David Calvert
David Calvert
Higher EducationLegislature
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The outside push led by actor Jeremy Renner to expand a $4 billion film tax credit proposal in Las Vegas to include Northern Nevada, too, now includes the support of former Gov. and UNR President Brian Sandoval.

“I would love to see that this opportunity be available to the entire state, not just Washoe County,” Sandoval said. “If there's interest in developing studios and a new industry in Northern Nevada, similar to Southern Nevada, I think it's good for the entire state.”

SB496, sponsored by Sen. Roberta Lange (D-Las Vegas), would open as much as $190 million in annual tax credits to film productions at two proposed studio sites in Las Vegas, part of an infrastructure-based deal advocates have argued would kick-start a new film industry in Southern Nevada. That includes one site owned by film-giant Sony Pictures, and another owned by a Southern California-based firm on land owned by UNLV. 

The lucrative expansion of film tax credits — potentially worth more than $4 billion through the 20-year lifetime of the proposal — has drawn intense scrutiny and renewed interest by outside parties looking for a slice of the tax credit pie. 

Early this week, Renner’s team floated a draft amendment to lobbyists aiming to create a third tax credit zone outside of Southern Nevada, at a yet-to-be-decided location that would be selected by the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED). 

Speaking to The Nevada Independent on Friday, Sandoval said the third zone — and the film studio infrastructure that could go along with it — could potentially land at a UNR-owned site, a 15-acre property that is currently a part of the university’s 800-acre Main Station Ranch off Mill Street and McCarran Boulevard that regents had already agreed to sell. 

“What we're hoping is that the Legislature, if indeed they're going to process this bill, that the rest of the state would be eligible to apply for those tax credits,” Sandoval said. “And, if indeed, a studio would be interested in coming to Northern Nevada, we'd very much like to have a relationship with them for the benefit of our students.”

Sandoval said he visited the site with Renner after the actor's team reached out to him about potentially creating a partnership with UNR.

“If this all came to fruition, we would love to have a relationship with the studio, with Mr. Renner,” Sandoval said. “We talked about having internships and pipelines for our students to be able to work within the film industry. And he was very open to that and, in fact, encouraged that.”

However, when asked for his opinion of the potential film tax deal as a former governor who presided over a massive expansion of the state’s tax credit infrastructure as part of a deal to lure Tesla to Northern Nevada, Sandoval said he could not comment on the economics because “I just don't know them right now.”

“I'm sure there are a lot of conversations that are going on with the Legislature, perhaps the governor's office of which I'm not a party to,” he said. “Certainly I'm supportive of diversifying the economy and bringing new industry to the state and giving more opportunities for workforce [development].”

During his tour of UNR’s campus on Tuesday, Renner told reporters that Northern Nevada’s lack of inclusion in the bill feels “short-sighted.” He argued that though some filming would be possible outside of Las Vegas under the proposed bill, Northern Nevada would not reap as many of the long-term benefits, such as job creation and educational programs that he said are essential for sustaining the industry. 

Renner said better film infrastructure in Northern Nevada could lead to larger production companies, such as Disney and Paramount, coming to the region.

“Proximity is where [Northern Nevada] will have an advantage. We have a wonderful landscape here outside the studio,” Renner said. 

Though Lange told The Associated Press on Monday that she was not open to amending her measure to include an additional zone for Northern Nevada, she reversed course Thursday, telling The Nevada Independent she had changed her mind and was open to an amendment from Renner.

Sandoval said it seems as though Renner wants to engage with UNR regardless of what happens with the proposed legislation.

“My impression is that [Renner’s] all in,” Sandoval said. “So I'm really excited about the possibilities of working with him in the future. And that isn't dependent upon the outcome of the bill.”

Actor Jeremy Renner, right, and Reynolds School of Journalism Dean Al Stavitsky during a tour of UNR with University President Brian Sandoval in Reno on May 23, 2023. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

What a film program at UNR could look like

In a whirlwind lobbying push that only began last week, Renner and UNR’s Reynolds School of Journalism have begun talks on a potential partnership, one that would lean on existing journalism school programs, such as documentary filmmaking. 

Though the Reynolds School is UNR’s smallest free-standing college by enrollment — and one split between students studying print and digital journalism, broadcast journalism, public relations and advertising — its outgoing dean, Al Stavitsky, told The Nevada Independent that the “possibility” of a partnership with Renner “could be transformative.” 

More specifically, SB496 has opened the possibility of a vast expansion of technical film education at UNLV, in large part through the creation of the new vocational fund. Under the tax-credit structure, that fund could be filled with as much as $19 million per year, money that would not be restricted either to UNLV or Southern Nevada, but generally under the governance of a separate board tasked with doling it out. 

Under that framework, UNR officials have already signaled they would pursue some of those funds should the bill pass. 

“We're not looking to dilute anything,” Sandoval said. “I mean, I think this is a great opportunity for the entire state and it would be very nice to be able to, if the bills process, to book in the state and have great studios. Or both in Northern Nevada and Southern Nevada, and if there's a workforce component to this, that would be complementary to what we do on campus, certainly we'd be interested.”

As for what the instruction could look like, Stavistsky said new film programs would not be limited to broader classes currently offered by the journalism school, often programs that give students documentary or visual journalism experience compressed in a single semester. Instead, he suggested a mix of interdisciplinary programs, blending offerings from the College of Liberal Arts and the journalism schools and expanding technical education that would “evolve once we move into this space.”

“I think that would be the logical progression of this partnership because, again, if there's a working studio right there, then it will quickly become apparent what the needs are,” Stavistsky said. 

UNR officials cautioned that talks are preliminary and nothing has been finalized or advanced meaningfully — especially as the film tax credit bill remains in legislative limbo just 11 days before the June 5 end of the state’s 120th session. 

To that end, any discussion of the expansion of UNR’s offerings to include new degrees in film or a film school would require the eventual involvement and approval of the Board of Regents, Sandoval said.  

But asked what a partnership could look like in a decade or more, Stavistsky said he “would love to see a Jeremy Renner School of Film, operating alongside the Reynolds School of Journalism.”

“And a deep partnership with the film industry in Northern Nevada, as well as into Hollywood,” he said.

Reporter Noel Sims contributed to this report.

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