Dormant project to build 22,000-seat arena with retractable roof on Las Vegas Strip comes to life

Updated March 7, 2017 - 6:22 pm

More than two years after his ceremonial groundbreaking, ex-NBA player Jackie Robinson’s proposed arena and hotel site on the north Strip is buzzing with some activity.

Work crews are grading the property, located between the mothballed Fontainebleau tower and the SLS Las Vegas, with plans to build underground parking and install utilities, according to Robinson.

The site work does not guarantee that the delayed project will materialize. But it comes after a lawsuit over financing efforts was recently dismissed and, at the very least, is a rare, visible sign of life at the project site.

If built, Robinson’s 27-acre mixed-use development – the latest super-sized idea for the parcel – could pump needed commerce into the sleepy north Strip. But it’s shown practically no progress coming out of the ground, all while another arena was built a few miles down the road.

In a phone interview Tuesday, Robinson said he expects to open the arena, hotel and other project components in December 2019. He “would like” to line up a pro sports team to play there, but construction “is not contingent” on that, as the venue would host conventions, concerts and other events, he said.

Asked why the project at the former Wet ‘n Wild waterpark site has been delayed, he said, among other things, that he wanted to ensure its financing was “the best we could get.”

He disputed the notion that prior financing plans fell through, saying investment banking firm SL Hare Capital – which he had hired to obtain project funds but then fought with in court – “wasn’t the right partner.”

PROJECT UPDATES PLANNED

He declined further comment on the financing, adding his group would announce project updates in the next few weeks.

A 61-year-old former UNLV basketball player, Robinson announced project plans in December 2013, saying the $1.3 billion development would feature a 22,000-seat arena with a retractable roof, as well as a 300,000-square-foot retail and restaurant area called Victory Plaza and a five-star, 500-room hotel.

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

Clark County commissioners approved project plans in August 2014, and Robinson held a ceremonial groundbreaking that October. At the time, he said the arena was scheduled to open in early 2017.

SL Hare, however, sued Robinson in Clark County District Court in 2015, less than a year after he hired the company to secure financing. SL Hare claimed it had received just $25,000 of a $300,000 retainer and that Robinson’s group “made numerous untrue statements” to the company, including that Starwood Hotels had “committed” to building a hotel on the site and that “a Chinese group was interested in financing construction” there.

Robinson’s group countersued months later, alleging SL Hare falsely claimed to have secured $300 million “and more” in funding commitments.

SL Hare’s lawyer in the case, John Aldrich of Las Vegas, withdrew last fall over his client’s unpaid legal bills, and a judge dismissed its lawsuit in January after the company failed to appear at a hearing and line up new counsel, court records show.

The phone number listed on SL Hare’s website is not in service.

FORMER WET ‘N WILD SITE

Las Vegas has a long history of people pitching massive projects and never building them, especially in or near the resort corridor.

And Robinson isn’t the first to propose something big for the Wet ‘n Wild site.

Other plans there included, in 2003, a resort with a marina and 600-foot high Ferris wheel; in 2007, a 142-story, 1,888-foot hotel, which reportedly would have been the tallest building west of the Mississippi River; and even, in 2010, a 20,000-seat arena.

Meanwhile, as Robinson’s arena plans stayed on the drawing board, a rival venue was built near the New York-New York and Monte Carlo hotels.

Casino operator MGM Resorts International and sports conglomerate AEG broke ground on the $375 million, 20,000-seat venue – later christened T-Mobile Arena – in spring 2014. The future home of NHL expansion team Vegas Golden Knights, T-Mobile opened last April.

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

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