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Could the A’s stadium breathe new life into Las Vegas Monorail?

Updated June 4, 2023 - 10:31 am

Could the Oakland Athletics — or more accurately the Las Vegas Athletics — breathe new life into the Las Vegas Monorail?

The short answer is probably not, but because the Major League Baseball team is rapidly closing in on developing a new $1.5 billion, 30,000-seat stadium home at the site of the Tropicana, the idea is worthy of discussion. Of course that is all dependent on the Nevada Legislature approving a bill that provides up to $380 million in public financing for a stadium, which was still under discussion as of Saturday.

The proposed stadium site is right across the street from the southern terminus of the Monorail, a quiet, zero- emissions transit system that has served 95 million riders, carrying its first passengers in 1993 when it linked the MGM Grand with what was then Bally’s, now the Horseshoe Las Vegas.

Over the years, the Monorail has been much maligned as a train to nowhere and never reached its full potential because promises to extend the line to downtown Las Vegas and Harry Reid International Airport were never fulfilled. The original vision of running the route down the center of Las Vegas Boulevard was scoffed at by Strip resort executives who viewed it as an eyesore compared with their beautiful resort buildings.

In the end, the line was built east of the Strip, running 3.9 miles between the MGM Grand and the Sahara with seven stations.

The Great Recession and the coronavirus pandemic almost killed the Monorail, but the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority thought enough of the system as a viable mass transit option that it bought it in a prepackaged bankruptcy acquisition for $24.3 million in 2020 and continues to operate it. The system was purchased as a bridge to the unproven Boring Co.’s underground transit technology that will be more subterranean Uber than mass transportation.

Big convention performer

During major conventions, the Monorail thrives because conventioneers staying at MGM and the several Caesars Entertainment properties along the route have easy access to the Las Vegas Convention Center. It also provides great access to events at the MGM Grand Garden and T-Mobile Arena.

Whenever I attend a Vegas Golden Knights game or a concert at MGM, you’ll find me on the Monorail with dozens of other fans, parking for free at Sahara or Westgate and riding for just $1 each way, the discounted fare for locals.

There was a discussion about extending the Monorail line to Mandalay Bay and Allegiant Stadium and adding a station at The Venetian Expo Center/MSG Sphere at one point, but that never came to fruition.

Linking the city’s three major convention facilities and providing a pollution-free means for fans to attend concerts and athletic events at some of the city’s major arenas and performance venues would be a major environmental statement by Las Vegas.

The rest of the country has figured this out.

I’ve attended events in Phoenix, Denver, San Diego, Minneapolis, St. Louis and Boston and used the available mass transit every time. Not only is it less expensive than parking rates, but it’s an opportunity to build camaraderie with other fans. The Bay Area’s BART train system, incidentally, has a stop near the Oakland Coliseum where the A’s currently play.

I get that it’s not for everyone. But it’s a progressive and environmentally friendly step toward beating the traffic that comes with the major events that make Las Vegas “the greatest arena on Earth.”

Beautiful renderings

The A’s distributed renderings of the stadium in its planned setting and it’s hard to argue with LVCVA President and CEO Steve Hill that it could be the most beautiful setting for a baseball game anywhere. The team’s colors seem to blend in perfectly with emerald-colored MGM Grand across the street.

As the A’s pitch it, the team’s new stadium would host an estimated 90 events a year, including 81 home baseball games mostly during the summer vacation season. We’ve been told 90 is a conservative number because there are lots of events Las Vegas doesn’t attract because it doesn’t have a suitable venue bigger than the arenas we already have and Allegiant Stadium.

The idea of making the Monorail a bigger part of the A’s gameday experience came in an email to me from a San Diego resident, Greg Jacobson, who has no expertise on transportation or engineering, but is a huge fan of Las Vegas — and the Monorail. He’s the kind of visitor the LVCVA loves, coming here with friends about four times a year.

Jacobson has grander ideas than I about the prospects of the Monorail and wrote a short white paper about what he would like to see happen.

“With the ballpark district and resort being planned for only a home-run distance from the terminus of the existing Monorail at the MGM Grand, an extension one stop directly across the street would allow each of the connected eastside resorts to act as feeder garages for park-and-rides to the ballpark and The Sphere,” he wrote. “The Monorail guideway could be designed as an integral element of the 35-acre site development and in a dream scenario run straight across the upper portion of the outfield seating in a true ‘Only in Vegas’ feature for the new ballpark. The new terminus would be an integrated station at the new Bally’s (Tropicana), and complement vs. compete with the (Boring Co’s) Loop just as buses, taxis, westside trams etc. would continue to transport people.”

Decommissioning planned

It seems like keeping and extending the Monorail is a nice idea, but here’s why chances of it succeeding are slim.

The biggest is that the Monorail appears headed for decommissioning sometime beyond 2028 — right around the time the new stadium would see its first pitch. When the LVCVA acquired the Monorail in 2020, officials said the system would be obsolete because the manufacturer of the Monorail no longer makes the train cars, and replacement parts are hard to come by.

Retrofitting the Monorail would be far more expensive a proposition than any investor would want to spend.

And among potential investors, the LVCVA seems to have already given up on the Monorail, MGM and the Raiders have shown no interest in extending the line to Mandalay Bay, Sphere Entertainment is having a hard enough time paying for that building and the A’s have already asked the public for a stadium contribution.

As great an idea and environmentally responsible as keeping the Monorail would be, it may not go far unless the public demands it.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.

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