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Who’s got next? Planned Las Vegas arena could be home to NBA team

Updated June 15, 2023 - 6:20 pm

The top executive of the company building a $10 billion resort project with a $1 billion NBA-ready arena on Thursday said he’d develop it without any public money.

Tim Leiweke, the chairman and CEO Oak View Group, the developers of the most expensive resort ever built in Southern Nevada, told a group of about 850 gathered at the M Resort new details about the project that someday could attract a National Basketball Association franchise.

Speaking at the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance 2023 Perspective gathering, Leiweke said the company’s strategy is to get the 20,000-seat arena built and available to an NBA franchise should the league choose to expand or relocate a team.

That’s what he did in Seattle with the construction of Climate Pledge Arena where the National Hockey League added the Seattle Kraken franchise in 2021.

“On this arena, I’m not asking anybody for any money,” Leiweke said as the crowd cheered. “We’re not going before the state, we’re not going before the county.”

His presentation came less than 24 hours after the Nevada Legislature approved a bill providing $380 million in public funding toward construction of a $1.5 billion baseball stadium for the Oakland Athletics, who are expected to seek relocation from Oakland to Las Vegas from Major League Baseball.

Leiweke also said that his company hopes to complete the permitting process for the 66-acre project at Las Vegas Boulevard and Blue Diamond Road by the end of the year and break ground next year.

Seven venues in 16 months

Leiweke and his business partner, entertainment industry icon Irving Azoff, formed Oak View Group in November 2015. The company has a track record of building entertainment venues and arenas and Oak View’s website says it built seven brand-new state-of-the-art venues within 16 months — all while the COVID-19 pandemic was raging.

One of the company’s most recent efforts was construction of the $1.15 billion Climate Pledge Arena. Leiweke indicated he planned to use the same strategy in Las Vegas as he did in Seattle — building the arena first before approaching a professional sports league for a team. Construction of Climate Pledge Arena was well underway before the NHL agreed to place an expansion hockey team there.

“We don’t want to get ahead of (NBA Commissioner) Adam Silver and the NBA. It’s up to the NBA to make a decision on expansion. We’re very careful about making any statements,” he said.

He said that he and Oak View Group have been purposely quiet about the project until Thursday, which was Leiweke’s first public appearance in Southern Nevada.

“The point is to remind people and to assure people that when we say we’re going to go do something, we quietly go and get it done,” he said. “This isn’t about going out and creating the biggest headlines. This is about putting together the best possible management team you could put together and then quietly go do your job.”

Morton, Badain are execs

Oak View Group announced that management team a year ago this week.

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, a former Raiders executive responsible for relocating the team from Oakland 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.

While much of the enthusiasm from the crowd revolved around sports with the destination potentially being a sports campus, Leiweke made it clear that the arena would also host concerts and music events.

“If you step back and look at the world, Las Vegas is the No. 1 live entertainment market in the world,” he said. “You are the live music capital of the world with residencies and theaters and festivals, and T-Mobile is one of the busiest arenas in the world. And amazingly, so is the MGM Grand Garden.”

He knows that the venue will have plenty of competition.

“You’ve got to build an arena that is on the cutting edge of premium suites and hospitality and merchandise and experience. We’re going to have to build something extraordinary. But wouldn’t you build something extraordinary if you knew 50 million people from around the world wanted to come to it and recognize it as the greatest arena ever built?” he said.

“That’s the kind of bet big, bold private entrepreneurs make on a place like Las Vegas and that’s the bet we’re going to make,” he added.

Leiweke is counting on there being people who won’t like his project.

“There are those people that want to come watch the parade. There are those people that want to come be in the parade,” he said. “And there’s a small group that wants to come pee on the parade. In every community that we ultimately deal with, one thing that I found to be relevant every place in the world is that there are CAVE people — Citizens Against Virtually Everything.”

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

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