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August 29, 2014

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South Point probably won’t wrangle hockey

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STEPHEN SYLVANIE / SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Wranglers forward Chris Francis celebrates after scoring a second-period goal against the Alaska Aces during Game 4 of a first-round ECHL playoff matchup Friday, April 25, 2014, at Orleans Arena.

Equestrian events and ice hockey are an odd mix, and that’s precisely why the suddenly vagabond Las Vegas Wranglers won’t play at South Point Arena and Equestrian Center.

As we have come to realize, the Wranglers remain in search of a facility in which to play home games during their next season in the ECHL. The team announced last week that the league had accepted the team’s “voluntary suspension” of play for the 2014-15 season, with a preliminary plan to return to the schedule for the 2015-16 campaign. The Wranglers learned in mid-December that the team’s lease at the Orleans Arena, their home since opening in Las Vegas in 2003, would not be renewed.

Where might the Wranglers play? The South Point has a fully furnished, 4,600-seat arena that seems ideal to serve as the team’s home ice. Except, the equestrian fortress is busy primarily with equine events. A total of 33 weekends this year are locked up with horse-related activities, Arena Director Steve Stallworth said, as well as with BMX races in July and college hoops tournaments during the holiday season (the Thanksgiving Shoot Out and the Holiday Hoops Classic in December).

But the real money is in the equestrian shows. Such showcases might be off the radar to many of us, but they are huge business to the hotel. South Point uses its facility to drive business, and the Wranglers, with their solid but almost exclusively local fan base, do not fill many hotel rooms.

Team President Billy Johnson is pursuing a venue for the team that would house about 4,250 fans. The team’s deal to build a facility at the Plaza fell apart May 7.

Meantime, the Orleans Arena is facing a dearth of activity in the aftermath of the Wranglers’ departure. The breakdown in communications has left the hockey team in a lurch, of course, as it lost one of the best minor-league venues in the country, along with the facility’s office space, locker rooms and luxury suites. But the Orleans also is in a spot. By the end of the month, leaseholders for the arena’s VIP suites are to meet with hotel officials for a state-of-the-arena session.

One question certain to surface: “What events are going to replace the Wranglers?”

So far, there has been no answer as to the hotel’s plan for replacing the business brought in on those 35 home dates.

• Mandalay Bay has recruited a new entertainment director, but he’s not so new to the scene in Las Vegas. Paul Davis, most recently of Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp and, before that, the Hard Rock Hotel, is reportedly the new man in charge of entertainment at Mandalay Bay.

Davis served in that role at the Hard Rock when it opened the revamped Joint and rock club Vinyl. A graduate of UNLV with a bachelor’s degree in accounting, Davis was a key figure at HRH for more than six years and booked Santana’s headlining run at the Joint beginning in summer 2009. Davis also helped develop the Hard Rock’s strategy of “mini-residencies” for rock acts in Las Vegas, signing Motley Crue, Def Leppard and Guns N’ Roses for quick runs in the music hall.

• On the topic of hotel officials with ties to the Hard Rock, there’s still no formal word on the status of Don Marrandino. “Rockin’ Don” has been seen around the Hard Rock Hotel over the past several weeks, matching speculation dating to the start of the spring that he is transitioning to oversee the property’s entertainment.

While an official with Harrah’s Entertainment, now Caesars Entertainment, from 2003 to 2009, Marrandino booked Donny & Marie at the Flamingo and Human Nature at the former Imperial Palace and was the first to sign a version of “Rock of Ages,” also at the Flamingo, in 2006.

The Hard Rock could use a shot of adrenaline as it heads into its 20th anniversary next year, and Marrandino is all about the adrenaline.

• The same elected official has been on hand for a December event at the Liberace Mansion hosted by owner Martyn Ravenhill, this month’s AIDS Walk at UNLV and the May 17 Human Rights Campaign gala at the Wynn.

Who was it? State Sen. Ruben Kihuen, whose Senate district covers UNLV and the Strip.

“My job is in Carson City, but it is also at events like these,” he said, adding that his district is among the most fascinating, colorful and newsworthy in the country.

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