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County OKs expanded plans for arena on Las Vegas Strip

Updated October 18, 2017 - 4:01 pm

Ex-NBA player Jackie Robinson was given the green light Wednesday for a massive expansion of his already-delayed arena and hotel project on the north Strip.

Robinson, who has been excavating the site but hasn’t built anything vertical, is adding a 2,000-room, 63-story hotel tower to his plans, as well as a 240,000-square-foot conference center, 24-lane bowling alley, 2,500-seat showroom and hotel wedding chapel.

Clark County commissioners on Wednesday voted 6-0 to approve his expansion. Commissioner Marilyn Kirkpatrick was absent for the vote.

The project’s total price initially was pegged at $1.3 billion but has now more than doubled to $2.7 billion. Robinson said in an interview Wednesday that his financing is “signed, done, sealed, delivered,” and that he expects to finish construction by spring 2020.

Overall, his project has been on the drawing board for almost four years and now calls for an arena, two hotel towers, a movie theater, retail space and more.

“I’m so excited about this project getting off the ground finally,” Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, whose district includes the site, said at the hearing.

‘It’s called the numbers’

Following the expansion vote, Robinson told the Review-Journal that the excavation process would take seven to eight months, and he indicated that the project would go vertical by late spring.

He also said “100 percent of the financing is done and completed,” and he named Credit Suisse as his lender. He declined to say whether the Swiss banking giant was alone on the deal or part of a consortium but said it’s “the lead on the project.”

Credit Suisse declined comment.

Asked why he was plotting a sizable expansion after it took him almost three years to start heavy work following his initial county approvals, Robinson said: “It’s called the numbers. You don’t want to build something that’s not going to be successful.”

He said his group determined they needed more hotel rooms and more entertainment, and that conventions, a showroom and a boost in rooms would bring more people.

Robinson gave no indication that he was close to landing a basketball team. He said his group built its business model in a way that lets them “support the arena” without a team, but added that they would prefer to buy an NBA franchise.

Big plans, little work

His 27-acre project site is on Las Vegas Boulevard between the mothballed Fontainebleau and the SLS Las Vegas. He unveiled his plans in December 2013, saying the project would feature a 22,000-seat arena with retractable roof, a 300,000-square-foot retail and restaurant area, and a 500-room hotel.

The project, then tentatively called All Net Arena and Resort, was slated to open in December 2016, the announcement said.

Commissioners approved his plans in August 2014, and Robinson held a ceremonial groundbreaking that October. But the property largely stayed quiet – it was normal to see nobody working there – until this past March, when crews started excavation.

Meanwhile, casino operator MGM Resorts International and sports giant AEG built and opened T-Mobile Arena, now home to the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights, some 3½ miles away. MGM, moreover, just bought the WNBA’s San Antonio Stars and plans to move the team to the Mandalay Bay Events Center.

On the north Strip, construction of the delayed Resorts World Las Vegas is underway, with the Chinese-themed megaresort scheduled to open in 2020. Also, New York developer Steve Witkoff and Miami investment firm New Valley bought the unfinished, blue-tinted Fontainebleau hotel in late August for $600 million but didn’t say what they’d do with it.

On top of that, the Las Vegas Convention Center, not far from Robinson’s site, is earmarked for a $1.4 billion expansion and renovation.

Still, Robinson is just the latest investor to have big plans for his property.

Other ideas that have come and gone since about 2003 include the Voyager resort, which called for a 50-story tower, a marina and a 600-foot high Ferris wheel; the 142-story, 1,888-foot Crown Las Vegas resort; and the 20,000-seat Silver State Arena.

Contact Eli Segall at esegall@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0342. Follow @eli_segall on Twitter.

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