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August 1, 2015

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Mayor hangs onto her NBA dream: If you build it, they will come

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Artist rendering of the proposed downtown/Cordish arena.

Downtown/Cordish arena

Artist rendering of the proposed downtown/Cordish arena. Launch slideshow »

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  • Mayor Goodman talks about the chance that more tourists than locals will use stadium
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Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman has a perfect view of Las Vegas’ future.

A balcony adjacent to Goodman’s seventh-floor office at City Hall yields a panoramic view of Symphony Park, where a proposed downtown arena could be constructed to highlight the 61-acre city neighborhood. From her balcony vantage point, Goodman’s view to the northwest isn’t too amazing — there is nothing but vacant land in the roughly 13 acres where an 18,000- to 20,000-seat facility is envisioned.

In her mind’s eye, however, the building has been constructed. And, since the charismatic leader is dreaming her own dream, the arena is packed with locals and tourists enjoying a night of NBA action featuring a Las Vegas team.

Isn’t it fun to dream — the Las Vegas Kings or Las Vegas Hornets, right?

“That is the beauty of Las Vegas,” she said. “We are forever creative and forever reinventing ourselves.”

Goodman has long told anyone willing to listen that the project has a legitimate chance at becoming a reality. And, she contends, if the arena is built, an NBA franchise would be able to finally and sincerely consider relocating to Las Vegas.

That’s the theory Goodman and her husband, Oscar, who spent 12 years as mayor before Carolyn was elected in 2011, have championed since rumors surfaced in 2005 about Las Vegas being a participant in the race to land an NBA team.

The city has hosted an NBA All-Star weekend, the NBA Summer League and U.S. National team training, but it’s essentially been stuck in neutral in luring a franchise.

On a handful of days, the chances of bringing in a team, or building a stadium, seemed better than others. But, for the most part, the idea of the NBA in Las Vegas is just that: an idea.

Even with a brand-new arena, whether it be in downtown or the Caesars proposal near the Strip or in Henderson, the Las Vegas Valley would have to get in line to land a team.

Kansas City and Anaheim have facilities, and leaders in those communities have expressed their desire for an NBA franchise. The same holds true for Seattle, which in 2008 lost the SuperSonics to Oklahoma City.

“You definitely have to have an arena built to be in the conversation,” said Jerome Williams, a Henderson resident who played in the NBA for nine years. “Cities such as Kansas City and Anaheim already have arenas in place. They are ready. If you have an arena, it would make it that much easier when a team wants to move.”

That is, if a team wants to move.

Two franchises — the New Orleans Hornets and Sacramento Kings — were the best candidates to relocate. This spring, however, New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson dished out $338 million to buy the Hornets, keeping them in the Big Easy.

That leaves the Kings, owned by the Maloof family, which also owns the Palms. The Kings were always Las Vegas’ best option. Because of an ongoing dispute over a new arena, the Kings are guaranteed to play in Sacramento only through the 2014 season, and the family’s ties to Las Vegas could make the city an enticing destination.

Still, last year the Kings were set to apply to move to Anaheim — which has an arena — before giving Sacramento one more crack at securing a deal for a new facility. That one last crack resulted in voters finally approving a deal in March. Then the Maloofs balked at terms of the deal, putting the Kings essentially back on the free-agent market, showing they appear determined to leave Sacramento.

But don’t expect the moving trucks to head our way. Anaheim, which is also a bigger media market, seems to have an inside track.

“Anaheim/Orange County is ripe for the NBA, and we offer an incredibly attractive package to any team,” Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait said in 2011. “As a world-class sports and entertainment destination, Anaheim will continue to move forward, and we remain optimistic to one day welcome professional basketball to Anaheim.”

Similar optimism exists in Las Vegas.

The city in December 2010 entered into a $2.4 million agreement with the Cordish Cos. of Baltimore to design a downtown arena. Cordish designed the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville and has the reputation of being one of the best in the industry, giving the Goodmans reason to be optimistic about the prospects of an arena and team.

“I believe as soon as we have an arena — this is my belief, I have nothing that is signed in blood, there’s no contract — but I believe we’ll have a team,” Oscar Goodman said in 2009. “These are serious people. These are not people who are operating on a wing and a prayer. Cordish has a proven track record. They don’t have time to play games.”

Even if the Kings, or any other team, wanted to come to Las Vegas, they would need the approval of the NBA’s Board of Governors — which isn’t exactly a lay-up. Commissioner David Stern has been on record saying Las Vegas wouldn’t be considered without a proper facility. He’s also expressed concerns about how Las Vegas sports books would handle posting betting lines on a Las Vegas team.

“That is such a myth in this day and age,” Williams, the former NBA player, said of gambling’s influence. “This isn’t the old days. All (gambling) in Vegas is closely monitored.”

Carolyn Goodman surely agrees. She’s determined an arena will be built and a team will come and said she won’t take no for an answer.

“I can’t tell you the number of people who say to me, ‘Save me a (luxury) box. We’ll buy a box,” Carolyn Goodman said. “These are successful businesspeople, and they are ready.”

Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or ray.brewer@lasvegassun.com. Follow Ray on Twitter at twitter.com/raybrewer21.

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