Published Friday, Feb. 14, 2014 | 6:10 p.m.
Updated Friday, Feb. 14, 2014 | 6:55 p.m.
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John Katsilometes and Tricia McCrone talk to Billy Johnson for an update on the Las Vegas Wrangler's search for a new home.
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John Katsilometes and Tricia McCrone talk to Las Vegas Wranglers President Billy Johnson about his team's search for a new arena.
The Las Vegas Wranglers are heading to the city’s very core, the famous hotel at 1 Main St.
Wranglers President Billy Johnson said today that Las Vegas’ entrant in the ECHL has reached an agreement with owners of the Plaza in downtown Las Vegas to play its home games in a leased facility to be built on that property for five years beginning with the 2014-15 season in October.
The yet-unnamed venue will seat about 3,500 fans, although its final design might change that figure. It will be built on the fifth-level pool and event deck of the resort, on existing space connecting the two hotel towers. Fans would park at the Plaza parking garage or in the hotel’s surface lot, and there is access to that space from both towers.
Under terms of the new agreement to be reviewed by ECHL officials, the Wranglers would play at the Plaza for five seasons, with an option to extend for another five years. The team’s headquarters will be moved to the property, beginning soon after it ends its 11-year run at Orleans Arena in April.
“We’re really looking forward to being part of the energy downtown and having a meaningful presence on Fremont Street,” Johnson said in a phone conversation today. “We have a venue that is suitable for a professional hockey team and will serve our fans very well.”
"The Wranglers have been a prized sports team in Southern Nevada for many years, drawing loyal fans from throughout the valley. We can't imagine our community without them, and so we're pleased that we can play a role in keeping them in Las Vegas by providing them with a home at the Plaza," said Jonathan Jossel, managing director of Tamares Group, parent company of the Plaza, in a statement.
"We believe that this partnership will be good for the Wranglers, good for the fans and good for downtown. We are looking forward to working with the Wranglers and their management and to providing more detailed information in the coming weeks and months."
The structure itself is a fabric shell on a metal structure — a heavily reinforced tent, if you will. Johnson stresses that the facility is “a purpose-built facility” designed and to be constructed specifically for hockey. The project manager is Darcy Dahlem of Vision Building Systems of Las Vegas, which specializes in fabric building structures and has designed such venues as the Olympic Training Facility in Chula Vista, Calif., and the multipurpose facilities at the World Market Center in Symphony Park.
Johnson said it was too early to pinpoint the cost of the project, though “multimillion-dollar” would be a good place to start. By way of comparison, the tented venue that is home to “Absinthe” at Caesars Palace (which seats 650) cost $2 million. But Johnson said the Wranglers’ venue at the Plaza will be far larger in scope than that “Absinthe” tent.
Johnson has sought to keep ticket prices near their current levels at Orleans Arena, and he said individual-game and season-ticket packages will be about the same next season as they were this year at the Orleans. There might be a parking free enacted at the Plaza, similar to the $5-per-car cost at Cashman Field for the Las Vegas 51s, though Johnson said he was unsure whether such a fee would be required or how much it would be.
“We plan to keep costs close to what they are now, and this venue allows us the chance to do that,” Johnson said. “We look to have a bigger season-ticket base and ticket sales. Moving downtown and into a new marketing area will give us a chance to expand our market.”
The Wranglers already have a solid and loyal fan base, drawing 4,800 to 5,000 fans per game to a 7,000-seat venue despite sitting in last place in the ECHL’s Pacific Division entering tonight’s home game against the Ontario Reign. The team’s group sales figures are a little more than 1,300 per game, a significant improvement from a year ago when the team didn’t sell 1,300 group packages for even a single game until after January.
It would not be a stretch to say entry to any Wranglers home game next season would be a hot ticket.
With the new venue, Johnson and Wranglers owner Gary Jacobs are presented more options, responsibilities and challenges for booking events in the facility. The team (specifically, Johnson) controls the events staged in the building, not just the 36-game Wranglers schedule.
So Johnson, who has spent much of his career in sports marketing and event promotions, is beginning to assess non-hockey events to present at the arena. That would place the new Wranglers venue, at 3,500 seats, in the same capacity division as such live venues as the Chelsea in the Cosmopolitan, the under-construction Brooklyn Bowl at the Linq and the Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel. The Pearl at the Palms and House of Blues are about half the size, but they also present major touring music and comedy acts.
According to the venue’s business model, the core Wranglers schedule alone would allow the team to at least break even. But there is an opportunity to generate revenue outside the team’s ECHL schedule.
“We are looking at programming year-round, definitely,” Johnson said “We’ll be doing research to find different music shows, convention rental opportunities, anything that would work as a live event or performance in a 3,500- to 4,000-seat venue.”
Johnson says he’s mulling some “funky” ideas for the building, such as chandeliers over the ice and old Las Vegas design effects that would make the venue “totally unique from anything you see in a hockey venue.”
One of the more prominent effects: The Wranglers logo is to be painted along the roof of the building and visible high above the hotel.
“We want two things to be visible from space,” Johnson said, “the Luxor light beam and our logo.”
Johnson is sounding far more at ease than he did on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve, when he confirmed that Boyd Gaming was sweeping the team out of Orleans Arena after this season. That unilateral decision, which was unexpected to Johnson and Jacobs, was issued Dec. 14 and gave the Wranglers’ executives little time to make a new deal in Las Vegas. A search that drew in just about every entity in Las Vegas that owned, managed or could build a venue has ended at one of the city’s longest-standing properties.
“I am very much at peace with how this all turned out,” Johnson said. “We have a facility that will entertain the fans very well. I never felt we were in a dire situation. I believe the biggest issue working in our favor is the fan support and the fact that we have one of the greatest sports owners the city has ever seen.
“He’s been with me since the first day, he’s always had my back, and we will continue to be a big part of this community for a long time.”
The Orleans Arena, a Boyd Gaming facility located just west of the Las Vegas Strip, is one of the nation’s leading mid-sized arenas, and was recently ranked No. 1 in the United States and No. 5 internationally among venues of similar size by Venues Today Magazine.
The Arena hosts more than 200 events each year, including concerts by top names like Carrie Underwood, Daughtry, Van Halen, Brooks & Dunn, Black Eyed Peas, Akon and Rihanna; family favorites like The Harlem Globetrotters and Circus Spectacular; and a wide variety of sporting events, including NCAA basketball tournaments, the West Coast Conference and Western Athletic Conference Basketball Championships, mixed martial arts with Superior Cage Combat, and major motorsports events.
The arena serves as home to the Las Vegas Wranglers professional ECHL hockey team, the Las Vegas Legends professional indoor soccer team, and the Lingerie Football League’s Las Vegas Sin. Stay connected to the Orleans Arena on Facebook (www.facebook.com/orleansarena) and on Twitter (@orleansarena).
The Plaza, renovated in 2011, has a lobby that features marble and inlaid mosaic tiles, chandeliers and a plush front desk that matches the classic Las Vegas feel with a contemporary look.
The hotel has 1,003 rooms and suites that showcase views of the Las Vegas Strip and downtown Las Vegas. Amenities include world-class entertainment, a casino floor that offers an array of classic gaming choice, which include 600 slot machines, a 400-seat bingo room, 18 table games and 57,120 square feet of casino space.
Among the dining options is Oscar's Beef * Booze * Broads, a steakhouse opened by former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar B. Goodman, which is located in the glittery dome enclosure above the hotel's main entrance.
The Plaza sits at the west end of the Fremont Street Experience on the site of the first train depot and auction site in Las Vegas, dating back to the San Pedro-Los Angeles-Salt Lake Railroad in 1905. The railroad was sold to Union Pacific in 1921 and the depot was demolished in 1970 to make way for the Union Plaza Hotel, built in 1971.
The hotel has been featured or is visible in several movies, including the 1971 James Bond film, "Diamonds are Forever;" the 1989 film "Back to the Future Part II;" the 1995 move "Casino," and the 2000 movie "Pay it Forward."