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October 24, 2014

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Bern’s-Eye View: New arena pushes Las Vegas forward but isn’t game-changing

Image

Courtesy AEG

AEG and MGM Resorts International released renderings of their $350 million arena off the Las Vegas Strip.

There’s a desire from some locals to fast-forward the timeline, to skip the May 1 groundbreaking for the new $350 million arena going up near the Strip and get to the part when our own Las Vegas Jackpots* are skating around the rink or preferably dribbling up and down the court.

*Insert your own terrible gambling-related team name here

And then there’s another faction, arguably larger than the first, who have had just about enough of this.

Yes, it does appear that a privately funded 20,000-seat arena is actually going to go up behind New York-New York. After the May 1 groundbreaking ceremony to celebrate the product of entertainment company AEG’s partnership with MGM Resorts International, construction may begin in earnest. The plan is to open the doors in 2016 with all of the amenities and specifications to “make it immediately available to host NBA and NHL teams,” according to a statement.

So here we are, a few steel beams and a couple of short years away from being all dressed up and just hoping some franchise swings by the house to take us to the dance. Only thing is, we don’t need them and we never have.

That’s not to say the possibility of an NBA or NHL team in Las Vegas isn’t intriguing. And it’s actually worth thinking about with this particular arena’s wheels already spinning in motion. But getting one of those teams in as a tenant does not determine whether this project is a success or failure.

The two loudest factions on this subject in Las Vegas believe either that this arena will finally be the one to entice the area’s first pro team in one of the four major sports — basketball, hockey, baseball and football — or that the valley will never get such a franchise.

The reasons for pessimism are plenty, but they start with people. The local fan base is perceived as fickle and few people living in Las Vegas grew up here, so there’s no sense of attachment that might keep people flowing through turnstiles even if the Jackpots fall to the bottom of the standings. The lack of a state-of-the-art arena was an issue, too, until AEG and MGM made their partnership work.

Las Vegas is littered with failed arena or stadium proposals, most of them aimed at bringing in a pro franchise that a certain segment of the population so desperately desires. The arena part seems like it’s no longer an issue.

This plan succeeded where so many others failed in part because it didn’t go searching for public money. There’s a wasteland of perfectly good project ideas discarded because organizers couldn’t figure out how to pay for them.

That’s a major reason UNLV hasn’t been able to follow through with any of its on-campus mega-event center plans. The most recent plans contained a shopping district, much like AEG and MGM’s arena, plus on-campus housing that could help develop the campus atmosphere UNLV desires.

And when looking at Las Vegas’ overall sports building landscape, a stadium would be a game-changer in terms of the added events (think preseason NFL) it could bring in that we currently can’t host. The nice thing about this whole scenario is that the dream isn’t dead.

This arena will be NBA-ready, as officials are happy to tell all franchises. Meanwhile, it should attract some of the biggest mixed martial arts and boxing matches, perhaps draw some family-friendly events away from the Thomas & Mack Center and serve as the premier local destination for award shows or large conventions. At least until another arena gets built, anyway.

The city of Las Vegas has a working proposal for an arena near Symphony Park, and before you know it there’ll be another one rumored to go up on the Strip.

So what does this mean for UNLV’s hope of building a stadium? Nothing, really. The main thing holding back those plans is money, not the threat of another project that would attract different events.

And what does it mean for Las Vegas’ sports future? Mostly, it ensures that we continue to have one.

This is better than a facelift to the Grand Garden Arena, and once this project is complete, Las Vegas will have tiers of arena options. Building a high-end arena is a step forward — not huge but a noticeable one — toward maintaining our current place in the sports world and possibly sliding into more opportunities.

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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