Thursday, May 1, 2014 | 6:29 p.m.
Combat or festival? This is one of the overarching questions for the new MGM Resorts arena as the groundbreaking of the 20,000-seat facility was celebrated today on the 16-acre MGM property between the off-Strip entrances of New York-New York and Monte Carlo on Dean Martin Drive.
During the opening remarks from the stage built for the event, which was curtained in a way to hide what was being called the Big Ass Shovel (the actual title of this massive prop) that would help break ground for the arena, Bill Walton fairly caterwauled about bringing in “Ringo and Paul and Mick and Keith” and even exhumed Jerry Garcia and reunited The Grateful Dead to open the venue.
A relentlessly peace-loving sort, the Mountain Man served the mouthpiece for the NBA and (it seemed) Pac-12 Conference, joining MGM Resorts Chairman and CEO Jim Murren, UFC President Dana White, Golden Boy Boxing chief executive Richard Schaefer, Los Angeles Kings President Luc Robitaille, Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak and host Jim Gray of HBO.
Walton stalked the stage and was clearly in favor of those who rock musically rather than physically.
“Let’s make it a big festival!” the 6-foot-11 Walton intoned. Officials say the new facility will open in the spring of 2016, absent any unforeseen construction delays.
Walton’s spirited oratory was delivered moments after White and Schaefer swapped jabs verbally (and playfully) about which organization would present the first bout at the new 20,000-seat, $375 million facility.
As it turns out, Walton and fight fans will all get their wish. The opening will not be a single-night event, at least as envisioned by AEG President and CEO Dan Beckerman, whose company is co-funding the arena with MGM Resorts in an effort where Bank of America is the assigned lender to the project.
“Whenever we open a building, we try to identify a grand opening period, define the building in that grand opening period with a sampling of everything that will be coming to that arena,” Beckerman said today after scooping a swatch of dirt with a golden shovel. “We want to have an enormous music event. We want to have a great boxing match. We want to have a great UFC card, which will come into our grand opening period.
“But we do want to do a series of blockbuster events to open the building.”
Details of who will play and fight will largely hinge on when the arena will open and what fights are being made and what artists are touring at the time.
“We want to send the message that we will accommodate any event,” Beckerman continued.
The new arena is in addition to, and not supplanting, any existing MGM Resorts venues (chiefly MGM Grand Garden Arena and Mandalay Bay Events Center) — or any venues across the city, for that matter. Just after the announcement of the arena a year ago, MGM Grand President Scott Sibella said that MGM Grand was turning back a high volume of top-level events simply because Grand Garden Arena is so busy.
Murren has since said the new building would likely host 100 to 150 “incremental” events a year — without needing a major sports franchise as a primary tenant. As he said Monday, and again today, the arena can turn a profit without an NHL or NBA franchise.
But still, many Las Vegans are craving a big-league sports team.
“We will ensure that the arena can accommodate any major sporting event,” said Beckerman, whose company owns 50 percent of the Los Angeles Kings. Asked about the viability of the Las Vegas market to sustain a full NHL or NBA season schedule (where teams play 41 home games), the AEG exec said, “This is a strong market, and I know that anyone looking to invest in a team, should they want to bring one here, they’re going to do their homework and do that market study.
“All I can speak to is our experience in the market, and that is as a promoter of Kings games, as a promoter of (exhibition) NBA games and as a music promoter, this is a tremendous market. We’ve had tremendous support with everything we’ve brought here. I know an anchor tenant is a different proposition, but there are several groups looking to do that and are doing their analysis of the market.”
The event was capped by an appearance by Floyd “Money” Mayweather Jr., the prince of the Grand Garden Arena who fights Marcos Maidana on Saturday night, riding on a massive Caterpillar tractor to join the group for the big shovel-in-the-ground moment. Nearby cannons belched confetti, in a requisite sort of way, and photographers jammed to take shots of the group along with cast members of “Fantasy” at the Luxor.
Afterward, Schaefer was walking along the perimeter and talked of the competition — in jest or in fact — between his organization and the UFC to make it to the new arena first.
“A lot of that between Dana and I, that was in fun. He’s a friend, and I’ve known him for years,” Schaefer said. “But we do want to be the first combat sport in this place, and I know he does, too.”