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Vegas has no NBA team (yet) but can it support 2 arena projects?

Updated May 11, 2024 - 2:14 pm

Two multibillion-dollar resorts — both with arenas that would be capable of hosting a National Basketball Association team — are in the works for Southern Nevada.

They leave the public wondering: Are both of them financially viable projects? Which would be more capable of hosting the fifth of the five Las Vegas-based major-league sports teams? If it’s a race, who wins? And is there a dark-horse rival lurking?

Those are questions likely to be pondered in the next few months as LVXP, with its proposal for a towering resort on the former Wet ’n Wild waterpark site at Las Vegas Boulevard, south of Sahara Avenue, and Oak View Group, an experienced arena developer with land at Las Vegas Boulevard at Blue Diamond Road, prepare to submit plans to Clark County for the next phase of tourism expansion in the valley.

They could come as early as this summer.

Neither property has been given a formal name by its developer, although Oak View executives refer to their project as OVG Las Vegas. Both have outlined the basics of what they’re building, but haven’t been specific about some project details.

Oak View project

Oak View Group unveiled plans to the public in June about its $10 billion project, which includes a $1 billion state-of-the-art arena. Oak View President and CEO Tim Leiweke, in a rare public appearance, told about 850 people attending a Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance gathering that the hotel-casino would have 2,000 rooms, a casino and a 20,000-seat arena.

In 2022, Leiweke made two big hires.

Randy Morton, a co-CEO of Golden Knights owner William Foley’s Foley Entertainment Group and a 20-year executive at Bellagio, was named president of OVG Las Vegas Hotel &Casino, while Marc Badain, the former Las Vegas Raiders executive responsible for relocating the team from Oakland, California, and a key figure in building $2 billion Allegiant Stadium, was named president of OVG Las Vegas Sports &Entertainment, the arena side of the project.

Badain offered no updates on the status of the project, which the company has said would break ground in late 2024.

LVXP is new to the party.

LVXP project

It announced late last month that it has secured the 27 acres former UNLV basketball player Jackie Robinson was hoping to develop into the All Net Arena. Robinson is no longer associated with the project, and the leadership team includes CEO James Frasure Jr., Chief of Staff Christine Richards and Chief Construction Officer Nick Tomasino — all longtime Las Vegas residents.

Frasure said the resort would include an arena with 18,500 to 20,000 seats for entertainment and sports, rooms with technological advancements currently used in overseas resorts, a casino, convention facilities and food outlets that would spotlight Las Vegas restaurateurs. A subterranean parking facility is planned for the property, which could become the tallest resort in Las Vegas and with 2,500 rooms.

Frasure has a longtime association with landowner Paul Lowden, former owner of the Sahara hotel-casino, and said his team has assembled a diverse range of capital sources, encompassing everything from institutional to private equity. Tomasino has the construction and development of the Sphere on his resume.

“Our leadership team and investors have diligently studied this project for years, gaining deep insights into the land’s history, the dynamics of the Las Vegas real estate market, and various arena proposals,” Frasure said in a statement issued last week.

“LVXP has secured a significant equity stake in the 27-acre property at 2601 Las Vegas Blvd. South by acquiring a portion of All Net Land Development LLC, a venture held solely by Sahara Las Vegas Corp. and Archon Corp. Our team also holds the exclusive rights to acquire the remaining equity of the entity and to develop the site.”

The company also has paid off $20 million in liens on the property from Las Vegas Paving.

NBA not essential to success

While the arena component is key to both properties, both development teams say having an NBA tenant is not essential to their success. That’s probably a good thing because while the NBA has all but promised Las Vegas eventually would get a franchise, an announcement does not appear imminent.

After the NBA finalizes a new media rights deal, which could occur by the end of the year, the league will seriously consider its expansion options. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has said multiple times that Las Vegas will definitely be on the list of potential cities, with Seattle being another popular potential destination. Whoever owns the new franchise would probably negotiate where it would play.

Milwaukee Bucks owner Wes Edens, who broke ground last month on the planned Las Vegas-to-Los Angeles high-speed rail line, said he has known Leiweke from Oak View Group for a long time.

Edens is a firm believer the NBA would be a good fit in Las Vegas.

“I think the aspirations of an NBA franchise out here are great,” Edens told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “I think it’s a great market for it.”

Five-league representation

With the NHL’s Golden Knights, the WNBA’s Aces and the NFL’s Raiders already playing in Las Vegas and MLB’s Oakland Athletics set to start play in the city in 2028, adding the NBA to the mix shouldn’t be an issue. Edens previously told the Review-Journal that he believes the city can support all the teams.

Edens is also the founder of Brightline West, which last month broke ground on a planned $12 billion, Las Vegas-to-Los Angeles high-speed rail line. The Las Vegas station is scheduled to be built on a portion of 110 acres next door to where the Oak View Group’s project is planned.

There is potential for the two sides to work together to ensure both projects are successful, Edens said.

“Obviously coordinating with the people around you is important; they have a big site just south of here, and it’s something that we’ll definitely work with them on,” Edens said. “Really the next thing that we’ll do is develop a master plan of the development for all of this that makes sense. And work with our neighbors both south and north, to make sure this is integrated properly.”

MGM Resorts International, AEG and Golden Knights owner Foley may have something to say about where an NBA franchise would play.

T-Mobile in play

T-Mobile Arena, nestled just west of New York-New York and Park MGM, has 18,000 seats when configured for basketball and has hosted the Pac-12 basketball tournament, regional NCAA basketball tournament games, UNLV and other college games.

Arenas around the country host both NBA and NHL games concurrently, with Crypto.com Arena (formerly Staples Center) in Los Angeles (Lakers and Kings), Denver’s Ball Arena (Nuggets and Avalanche) and Dallas’ American Airlines Center (Mavericks and Stars) among them.

More importantly, those arenas also thrive on hosting concerts and performances. Oak View Group and LVXP leaders say the same would be true for them.

A tourism industry analyst believes one of those arenas could become a new home for the two-time WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces, who may have outgrown their Michelob Ultra Arena home at Mandalay Bay.

Amanda Belarmino, an assistant professor at UNLV’s William F. Harrah College of Hospitality, also is appreciative that the three major basketball arena proponents haven’t sought public funds to build their venues, unlike the Athletics and Raiders.

“We must be the only city in the U.S. where investors are willing to build arenas without city funds as many other cities (like Seattle) have lost NBA teams because they were unable to find funds for a new arena,” she said.

Aces a tenant?

“I do believe that our championship Aces could use a larger arena as the demand for WNBA games has increased dramatically this year. Along with the city hosting NCAA games, one NBA-ready arena would make a lot of sense. However, two seems to be a bit of overkill. I think that the new project indicates a lack of confidence in the Oak View Group’s project,” Belarmino said.

Brendan Bussmann, a gaming industry analyst with Las Vegas-based B Global, doesn’t see it that way.

“Oak View Group has put forward a solid proposal and has a proven track record on projects on this scale and of this scope,” he said. “There really is not a comparison at this point until we get more details about financing for LVXP.

“All signs continue to point to Las Vegas getting an NBA expansion team in hopefully the near future,” he said. “I continue to see this as a two-horse race between OVG and MGM Resorts who has also put a marker down with T-Mobile for a team. The NBA wants to make sure if they locate a team in Las Vegas that it is on solid foundation.”

Two Clark County commissioners representing districts in which the projects would be built are encouraged with both efforts and don’t see it as a competition.

“Both projects are represented by respected individuals who have experience with development and bringing about high-quality projects,” said Commissioner Michael Naft, whose district includes the Oak View site.

“I think it’s also important to stress that developers of both projects say — and I believe them — that they’re prepared to be NBA-ready and that both projects can stand alone as live entertainment venues, at least the way that they’re financed, packaged and conceived.”

Naft sees the wide-open canvas of vacant land to accommodate parking and other amenities as a plus for the Oak View site. He also likes the close proximity of the Brightline train station and the easy access to Interstate 15, the 215 Beltway and Harry Reid International Airport as favorable transportation elements.

Filling the gap

Commission Chairman Tick Segerblom, whose district includes the LVXP project, is happy to see the potential of the former Wet ’n Wild site filled with a resort.

“There’s a huge hole between the Sahara and Fontainebleau that’s just dying to be developed, and you know that will be the missing piece of the puzzle,” he said. “I can’t emphasize enough how great it would be to have a legitimate project there.”

He was sold on the project when world-class architect Paul Steelman joined the LVXP team in his office and showed renderings of the development. Steelman has declined requests from the Review-Journal to publish them.

Segerblom said there’s plenty of parking at nearby resorts where basketball fans will stay when they watch any team play. He also noted that a new circular overpass being built at Las Vegas Boulevard and Sahara Avenue will take pedestrians off the street to remove some traffic bottlenecks in the area.

Review-Journal reporter Mick Akers contributed to this story.

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

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