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Despite ‘serious concerns,’ long-delayed Strip arena, hotel plan survives vote

Updated November 18, 2022 - 11:30 am

Ex-NBA player Jackie Robinson narrowly kept his long-delayed arena and hotel project plans alive this week, overcoming skepticism of his financing plans.

The Clark County Commission voted 4-3 on Wednesday to extend approvals for Robinson’s multibillion-dollar proposal for the north end of the Strip. He first unveiled the development almost nine years ago, and his 27-acre project site has been little more than a giant excavated hole in the ground for years.

Project representative Chris Kaempfer told commissioners Wednesday that Robinson’s team had, among other things, cleaned the property, submitted required traffic and drainage studies, finished on-site demolition work and started construction of temporary power facilities.

“We are working on the site, we’re developing the site, we’re ready to finish what we have started,” said Kaempfer, a land-use attorney with law firm Kaempfer Crowell. “We sincerely believe that our extensions of time to commence construction are clearly warranted.”

Commissioners Jim Gibson, William McCurdy II, Ross Miller and Tick Segerblom voted to approve the extensions. Commissioners Justin Jones, Marilyn Kirkpatrick and Michael Naft voted against it.

‘Signed, done, sealed, delivered’

Robinson’s plans have called for an arena with a retractable roof, two luxury hotel towers, a convention center, movie theater and more on the long-vacant former Wet ’n’ Wild water park site, between Sahara Las Vegas and the under-construction Fontainebleau Las Vegas.

Last month, Robinson unveiled a new funding package for the project, saying he expected to finish the $4.9 billion All Net Resort &Arena by the end of 2025.

His funding plans have changed shape several times over the years. In 2017, he told the Review-Journal his financing was “signed, done, sealed, delivered,” and he named Credit Suisse as his lender. In 2018, he said his group had signed a $3 billion loan agreement with the International Bank of Qatar.

In 2019, he appeared before the County Commission and described a complex plan involving money in Qatar, people in Zurich, central banks in Europe and the U.S., lines of credit, funds moving from one bank to another and state of Nevada revenue bonds.

“The applicant has come in here with funding sources that are different every single time,” Commissioner Jones said Wednesday, adding that last time, it was “magic money from the Middle East.”

Naft said his “skepticism about the financing is very real,” and even McCurdy, who voted for the extensions, said he had “concerns” with the financing and wanted to know that the money coming in was “appropriate.”

‘Serious concerns about whether this is actually real’

Andrew Diss, senior vice president with the Sahara, spoke in opposition to the extensions, saying, “If we thought this project was real, and it was going to come to fruition, we would be the biggest cheerleaders of it.”

He said that in several instances, the developers appeared before the commission and stated they had secured funding for the project, and “then it vanished.”

Whenever they’re nearing the end of their required time to meet conditions from the county, he added, “they appear in front of you again with another source of financing.”

“We have serious concerns about whether this is actually real this time,” Diss said.

At a media event last month at the upscale Stirling Club near the Strip, Robinson introduced his new investor, Todd Owen, the director of Clearwater Perpetual Master Trust. In an interview with the Review-Journal at the event, Owen described the trust as a Wyoming-based family office investment fund out of California.

Torben Welch, an attorney for Robinson’s project, told the Review-Journal that Owen’s bond portfolio is “well in excess of this project and many other projects.”

At Wednesday’s hearing, Jones said Clearwater “doesn’t even really show up in Google” when he searches for it, and Diss indicated that Owen’s online profile touts his experience in threat and vulnerability assessments, emergency and disaster plans, courier services, executive protection and more.

“That sounds very impressive, but nothing about that says that they have any experience with development of this magnitude,” Diss told commissioners.

Last month, Owen told the Review-Journal that the trust hadn’t financed a construction project as large and expensive as Robinson’s before, but that it had invested in infrastructure projects outside Nevada.

Owen could not immediately be reached for comment late afternoon Thursday.

Long history

Robinson initially unveiled plans in December 2013 to build an arena and luxury hotel, saying the project was slated to cost $1.3 billion and open in late 2016.

Clark County commissioners approved the plans in summer 2014, and Robinson held a ceremonial groundbreaking that fall. But the property largely stayed quiet until crews started excavation work in March 2017.

County commissioners approved a big expansion of his plans in October 2017, but since then there’s been little progress beyond the initial excavation.

In October 2020, the County Commission gave Robinson six months to file required project agreements. At the hearing, Segerblom said it was “time to fish or cut bait.”

“If you can’t do this, let’s open it up so somebody else can come in and take advantage of that property,” Segerblom, whose district includes the project site, said at the hearing.

Commissioners approved the required project agreements with Robinson in April 2021.

“We greatly appreciate the opportunity,” Robinson said at the time. “We don’t take it for granted.”

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

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