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April 15, 2014

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Ron Kantowski asks of the new arena plan: What’s in it?

The last time I wrote about the possibility of Las Vegas building a sports arena to lure pro sports, it was arenas, plural.

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I recall writing something to the effect that building two arenas here was the worst idea since the designated hitter and the Sony Betamax. Then I ripped off James Earl Jones for the 38th time.

Well, it's no longer a matter of if we build it, will they come? It's when we build it. I'd swear on a stack of old Sporting Newses - the baseball bible - that it's going to happen this time.

Actually, it's not we but them - the Anschutz Entertainment Group and Harrah's Entertainment Inc., which say they will combine resources to build a 22,000-seat, $500 million arena that would be completed by 2010, just east of the Paris Las Vegas and Bally's on the Strip.

Supposedly, the announcement will not affect the so-called original arena project, a $10.5 billion monstrosity/figment of Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman's imagination announced last month by REI Neon/Warburg Pincus.

Whereas AEG's track record rivals that of Richard Petty - Staples Center in Los Angeles, the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., the Toyota Center in Chicago and the new Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo., are examples of what these guys can do when they put their wallet to it - the REI Neon effort may soon be DOA.

REI Neon has until Sept. 30 to trade in all that Monopoly money it has been waving in Mayor Goodman's face for a ton of the real kind that might keep that project alive (provided Jupiter aligns with Mars). Meanwhile, AEG seems well on the way to passing "Go" and collecting $200 for a mezzanine seat.

If I were a betting man, I'd probably have some explaining to do to NBA Commissioner David Stern. Then I'd put every last penny on AEG President Tim Leiweke and his newest, bestest pals at Harrah's. But the $500 million question is the same as it ever was: If - OK, when - they build it, what are they going to put inside?

AEG says it can make the arena work without an NBA or NHL tenant, and maybe if it hire s Daren Libonati away from the Thomas & Mack Center, it can.

Because if Libonati can take a supposedly decrepit old barn like the Thomas & Mack and turn it into the nation's second-highest grossing sports and entertainment venue behind Madison Square Garden, just think what he could do by combining his Rolodex with all those luxury suites.

But with an NBA or NHL team, you would need fewer dog and pony shows to balance the books. Especially if the Rolling Stones manage to keep breathing until 2010.

AEG's affinity for hockey is hardly a secret - did I mention the group also own s the Los Angeles Kings? So it's conceivable it could receive an expansion team for each of its new arenas (here and Kansas City) when the NHL's TV money from Versus runs out, which may already have happened when nobody was watching.

As much as I, too, would like to drive the Zamboni, the truth is the NBA would be a better fit, especially with the Maloofs still looking for a new arena in Sacramento. Mind you, that was before Tim Donaghy and Pacman Jones and all those light tippers on All-Star weekend had to go and screw it all up.

Now it's sort of like Bea Arthur trying to fit her foot into Eva Longoria's 6-inch pumps.

But three years from now, Donaghy may be playing poker for Camels, David Stern may be retired and Kirstie Alley may be a size 5.

And you and I may be sitting in some serious traffic on East Flamingo after paying $200 for a mezzanine seat.

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