When the Las Vegas Wranglers move to new ice downtown, team owners will invest $4 million in a 45,000-square-foot, fabric-shell structure to house a hockey rink and seating for 3,500 on the roof of the Plaza Hotel casino, across from the Fremont Street Experience.
The five-year deal between the Wranglers, a Double-A minor league hockey club in the ECHL, and the Plaza came together in three weeks after Boyd Gaming declined to renew the Wranglers’ current lease on Orleans Arena. The new Plaza lease can be renewed for another five years after the initial agreement expires, said Billy Johnson, the Wranglers president.
Johnson recalled eyeing the downtown casino’s roof from the Plaza’s south tower in December and thinking, “This could be funky. It’s a word that I’ve stuck with ever since.”
The Wranglers hired Vision Building Systems, LLC, a Las Vegas-based modular building company, to erect the metal structure, which will be covered with a fabric shell much like the white-tent facilities at the nearby World Market Center at Symphony Park.
Representatives for the Tamares Group, parent of the Plaza at 1 South Main Street, declined comment for this article. A Google Earth image from above shows tennis and basketball courts, and a pool on the roof where the Wranglers soon will play. Johnson said the pool will likely survive.
The roof of the casino was once part of a parking structure and can handle the weight of fans, ice and a Zamboni without additional structural work, he said.
The Wrangler’s structure will be insulated, with the ice rink expected to open for league play in November 2014, Johnson said. He said the structure will take five months to assemble, and won’t be frozen during summer months. He said the ECHL season starts in October, but he envisions the team starting its campaign on the road, giving more time to finalize the venue.
The privately financed project will rely on existing Plaza parking, and the hotel is looking at installing escalators to move fans upstairs to the hockey venue.
Average Wrangler game attendance is about 4,600, with 1,150 season tickets sold this year. Johnson said the Wranglers have increased its season ticket base by about 150 annually for the past four years to build the number above 1,000.
Under the deal, the Plaza will convert the fifth floor of its south tower for locker rooms, medical space and bathrooms, Johnson said. He noted that visiting hockey teams and their fans can stay at the Plaza.
The Wranglers will generate revenue from ticket sales, while the team and the hotel-casino will split food and beverage revenue from operations run by the Plaza, Johnson said.
Johnson said the Wranglers expect to boost revenue by using the facility for public skating sessions, men’s hockey leagues and even concerts or conventions. But the team’s 36-game home season must be able to financially support the new facility, he said.
“We’re not counting on outside revenue for viability of the project,” Johnson said.
The team will re-evaluate ticket prices for next season, which begins in October, Johnson said. The least-expensive walk-up ticket price now is $18, he said.
Johnson said he’s looking at the new venue as a opportunity to launch a start-up business model for the 11-year-old club. He will be able to design the structure from scratch to fit the quirky promotions for which the Wranglers are known, and to accommodate more midnight games.
Johnson said design features could include TV-projected images all around the interior of the venue and colorful chandeliers hanging above the ice.
Johnson said increasing the number of midnight games is aimed at cashing in on Downtown nightlife and proximity to the Fremont Street Experience.
“Midnight games down here will be sick,” Johnson said.
The last Wranglers home at Orleans Arena is April 1.
Sports venues are a hot topic in Las Vegas these days, and will be the topic of discussion at the Las Vegas Review-Journal Hashtags &Headlines luncheon at 11:30 a.m. on Monday, Feb. 24 at Texas Station.
Contact reporter Alan Snel at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-5263. Follow @BicycleManSnel on Twitter