Las Vegas Sun

September 1, 2014

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Las Vegas’ field of dreams

Part of east Las Vegas' Freedom Park would be turned into replica Major League Baseball parks for softball and baseball as part of a proposed $25.9 million sports complex.

Although Las Vegas would build the complex, Chino Hills, Calif.-based Big League Dreams would be responsible for the six-field park's maintenance and operations costs. If approved, the complex -- which also would include two restaurants, an indoor sports area, batting cages and volleyball courts -- could be open within two years.

It could take nearly a decade, however, for Las Vegas to begin breaking even financially on the deal's annual price tag.

In addition to making $2.15 million annual payments on the 20-year bonds that would be used to build the complex, Las Vegas also would have to pay property taxes on the land because a for-profit company would be using it, City Finance Director Mark Vincent said.

The city is not guaranteed any payments from Big League Dreams until the park has been open for four years. And based on Vincent's calculations, it will probably take six to nine years for the company to begin paying the city enough to offset the project's annual costs.

City Councilman Gary Reese, whose ward includes the park, said some who might use the new fields are strongly behind the proposed deal, which is expected to go before the council on Dec. 21.

The Big League Dreams complex, which would take up 35 acres of the 68-acre Freedom Park, is a big part of the overall $47.2 million plan to upgrade the park.

A new $5.3 million swimming pool already is under construction and expected to open next spring. There also are plans for two new soccer fields and to redo the park's walking trails.

Reese said Big League Dreams' proposal probably adds $5 million to $10 million to the park renovation's cost, beyond what otherwise would have been spent to upgrade the ball fields situated where the proposed complex might go.

"The whole area's getting a face-lift. It's just going to be great," Reese said.

The Big League Dreams deal, Reese said, would be good for the city for several reasons.

"At the end of 35 years, everything reverts back to the city," Reese said. "And what is our role as the city but to make the city a better place to live?"

The councilman also said that while the company will make money off the deal, the city also would see revenue it otherwise would not receive.

"If we did it ourselves, we'd get nothing," Reese said.

If approved by the council, the complex would take 18 months to two years to build, company and city officials said.

Once open, Big League Dreams would have about 100 people to staff the complex, which company Vice President Don Webber said would have prices comparable to other city fields. Admission would be free except when league or tournament games are being played, when the charge would be $2. Youths 13 and younger would be admitted free.

Webber said the company would make its money from league and tournament fees, sponsorships, advertising and its restaurants.

"We are simply a concessionaire and operator," Webber said.

The company would be responsible for security and maintenance at the facility, which Deputy City Manager Steve Houchens said would be worth about $400,000 a year.

Under the proposed contract, the company would pay Las Vegas nothing in the project's first year, and any potential payments to the city in the second and third years would be contingent on the facility reaching revenue targets.

Beginning in the fourth year, Big League Dreams would start paying the city a guaranteed base annual fee of $192,154, plus a percentage of revenue, Vincent said.

"The city's not going to get rich on this," he said. "But this is a whole new amenity ... I think this deal has to be looked at beyond just a partnership with a business. They will offer an experience you can't get at any city facility."

The prospect of smashing a ball over replicas of Wrigley Field's ivy or Fenway Park's Green Monster has local softball players excited.

Daniel Trujillo, whose barbershop Eastside Cutters is minutes from Freedom Park, has an adult softball team that plays at Henderson's Arroyo Grande Sports Complex. He has played at a Big League Dreams park in California.

"We played at their Palm Springs park and they have beautiful complexes," Trujillo said. "For the game, it's incredible, beautiful fields ... And if you hit a home run, it looks like you hit one over the Green Monster. People will drive from all over the city to play here."

Thomas Pfundstein, state director for United States Specialty Sports Association, said opening a Big League Dreams complex in Las Vegas will allow his group to bring in larger softball and baseball tournaments.

"This facility has been needed for many, many years, and they have to do something with Freedom Park anyway," he said. "This will be a win-win for the community." Big League Dreams already has five complexes in California and Texas, with another 10 in the works, Webber said.

Preliminary plans for Las Vegas' complex showed Tiger Stadium, Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, Crosley Field and Ebbets Field, but Webber said that could change in the planning process.

Dan Kulin can be reached at 229-6436 or at [email protected]

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