Game time at the arena: Now, where are we going to park?

It’s hard to ignore the copper-colored arena under construction off Tropicana Avenue near Interstate 15. Through its construction phases, the privately financed $375 million arena has been showing up everywhere on social media and drawing stares from motorists at the I-15-Tropicana exchange.

But while Las Vegas residents eagerly await the arena’s debut in April, they’re also bracing for the traffic and parking challenges the sports and entertainment venue will pose.

The 20,000-seat arena fits snugly on a 14.5-acre site bounded by the New York-New York parking garage on the east, the Monte Carlo garage on the north, Tropicana Avenue on the south and Frank Sinatra Drive on the west.

But no new parking garages or major lots are being built for the arena. And valley residents are already feeling the angst.

“I’m sure Tropicana will turn into a parking lot,” said North Las Vegas resident John Steinheiser, a basketball fan. “Getting off at Trop at I-15 will be a mess.”

Even County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak acknowledged that, “Traffic is an issue. But they convinced us that it will be difficult but workable.”

“They” are the arena’s owners, the 50-50 partnership of MGM Resorts International and Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) of Los Angeles. MGM and AEG are well-aware that local residents such as Steinhauser have concerns about traffic and parking.

MGM-AEG will introduce a comprehensive traffic and parking plan about six to eight weeks before the arena opens in April to inform the public, said arena spokesman Michael Roth, an AEG communications official.

When Sisolak says “traffic is an issue,” that’s a polite way of saying several thousand more cars will be visiting the arena’s already-busy immediate vicinity, which includes the region’s second-busiest intersection — Las Vegas Boulevard and Tropicana Avenue. The extra cars will add to the 15,500 vehicles that already pass through the intersection each hour on Friday nights.

MGM-AEG’s plan, outlined in a January 2014 Lochsa Engineering traffic/parking report submitted to the county, hinges on availability of 3,895 spaces in MGM’s nearby hotel-casino parking facilities. The two closest garages at New York-New York and Monte Carlo were built with more stalls than necessary to meet county code for the hotels and have that much excess capacity, MGM Resorts has noted.

But the Las Vegas area hasn’t yet seen the exact plan to handle traffic and parking because MGM Resorts and AEG officials prefer to wait until weeks before the arena’s debut, Roth said. Clark County spokesman Dan Kulin said the arena isn’t required to submit formal traffic control plans until 30 days before the venue’s first major event.

The Lochsa report does offer some clues, saying MGM-AEG should consider permanent signs directing motorists to parking from I-15, Las Vegas Boulevard, Frank Sinatra Drive and Tropicana Avenue.

Other ideas include portable signage for events; temporary traffic control at some spots; staff directing on-site traffic to parking garages; promotional materials, website information and maps highlighting parking options and traffic flow; a guide showing alternative transportation options such as walking, biking or mass transit; and offering transportation and parking information on the web in conjunction with event ticket sales.

Sisolak has his own recommendation for arena users: get ready to walk.

The New York-New York and Monte Carlo parking structures are a 10-minute walk from the arena’s entrance, but efforts likely will involve shifting overflow to other MGM properties such as Mandalay Bay, Excalibur, Luxor, MGM Grand, CityCenter and Bellagio.

“It won’t be as convenient as we have it now. There will be more walking,” Sisolak said.

Forget the sea of pavement

With much still up in the air, there’s only one thing is for sure: The new arena will force Las Vegas-area residents to change the way they think about driving and event parking.

Unlike most arenas, this one won’t be surrounded by an asphalt ocean, said Tina Quigley, general manager of the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada.

“You can’t engineer your way out of this from a road infrastructure standpoint,” Quigley said. “As a city, we’re late to the game (in public transportation alternatives).”

The car-centric Las Vegas region is accustomed to motoring to Thomas & Mack Center’s massive parking lot. Visitors to the MGM-AEG arena will have to consider alternative ways of reaching the building other than driving while changing their attitudes about travel, Quigley said.

“Most people are used to a sea of pavement out in front. It’s very clear, there will not be a sea of pavement,” she said. “We will all have to shift our thought.”

Indeed, the projected numbers are not impressive for locals’ use of transit to reach the arena. The Lochsa report said 98 percent of local attendees will arrive by vehicle, including 10 percent that will park away from the immediate arena area and either walk or take MGM Resorts trams. MGM’s CityCenter tram links Bellagio, CityCenter and Monte Carlo, while its Mandalay Bay tram connects Mandalay Bay, Luxor and Excalibur.

Those who walk shouldn’t expect major new pedestrian bridges crossing the Strip or Tropicana Avenue. None are planned.

But New York-New York’s garage is so close to the arena that it will have a pedestrian bridge to a luxury suite level in the venue.

The Las Vegas Monorail’s closest stop is east of MGM Grand, on the east side of the Strip.

Parking facilities on Tropicana’s south side at Excalibur, Luxor and Mandalay Bay mean arena users will have to cross Tropicana, mostly via the existing pedestrian bridge at the Strip, though some will walk along Frank Sinatra Drive on the west side of the arena.

MGM Resorts plans to move street light poles and utility boxes along the sidewalk on Frank Sinatra Drive between Excalibur and the arena to make room for pedestrians, Kulin said.

Parking in the garages south of Tropicana means walking at least 20 to 30 minutes — a typical walk for sports facilities in major cities, Sisolak said.

He said when he visits San Diego to watch Padres baseball games at Petco Park, fans typically walk 30-40 minutes to reach the ballpark.

“If you’re a sports fan, you’re used to walking,” Sisolak said.

Numbers higher for NHL

If there’s a silver lining in the traffic picture, it’s the fact that 55 percent of attendees using the arena are expected to be tourists who won’t drive there.

The remaining 45 percent will be locals — an estimated 6,000 arriving in the hour before a weekend event alone. Nearly 7,700 locals are expected to exit in the hour after the event, according to the Lochsa analysis.

Local traffic isn’t a constant, however. If Las Vegas lands a National Hockey League team it’ll mean a higher percentage of locals going to and from the arena on game days. If that’s the case, Quigley recommends parking at the South Strip transfer terminal at 6675 Gilespie St. and riding the Strip and downtown bus.

But for non-NHL games, having more tourists than locals attending more than 100 annual events means most of those out-of-towners already will be on the Strip corridor and can walk or use taxis and limos to reach the arena.

Traffic planners also say many events will attract crowds well below capacity. MGM-AEG’s traffic and parking plans tailored to events attracting fewer than 10,000 attendees, from 10,000 to 15,000, and more than 15,000. Those plans would be coordinated with local police, emergency personnel, the Nevada Department of Transportation and Clark County.

Quigley suggests arena visitors change their habits because she noted the region’s population is projected to increase from 2 million to 2.5 million in 10 years, with visitor numbers growing from 41 million now to 51 million.

“It’s just going to get worse,” she said.

Contact Alan Snel at asnel@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5273. Find him on Twitter: @BicycleManSnel

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