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December 10, 2018

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Scouting report: Examining the pros, cons of potential NFL stadium sites

Rock in Rio USA: Day 4

Tom Donoghue / DonoghuePhotography.com

In this file photo, the MGM Resorts Festival Grounds are shown during 2015 Rock in Rio USA. The festival grounds are among nine locations that have been identified as potential sites for an NFL stadium.

Las Vegas Sands Corp. and Majestic Realty Co.’s quest to build an NFL stadium in Las Vegas hinges on a lot of ifs. Among them:

• If a special state tourism panel recommends some public funding for the stadium project, currently estimated to have a total cost of $1.7 billion to $2.1 billion

• If the Nevada Legislature acts favorably on the panel’s recommendations, and Gov. Brian Sandoval signs that action into law

• If 24 of 32 NFL team owners allow the Oakland Raiders to relocate to Las Vegas, which the team has vowed it would try to do should the stadium project move forward

• If, probably before many of the other questions are resolved, backers can find a suitable location to house the 65,000-seat stadium

The last if has become the most pressing one.

Early discussions about building the stadium focused on a 42-acre vacant lot owned by UNLV, whose football team also would play in the facility. But serious doubt has been cast on the viability of that site due to its proximity to runways at McCarran International Airport, and when backers discussed specific options with the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee this week, the list of possibilities had swelled to nine sites.

Over the coming weeks, stadium backers plan to narrow the list based on a variety of criteria. The infrastructure committee — which now has until the end of September to work through the stadium plans — needs a clearer sense of the stadium’s location in order to hold a complete discussion about cost.

The site evaluation criteria include ownership, site capacity, land cost, access and egress, parking, game day atmosphere and ability to maximize revenues, according to a preliminary matrix shown to the committee on Monday.

It’s not clear which site has the best shot at becoming the ultimate stadium location, but each possibility discussed this week brings some obvious pros and cons to the table. Here are some of them.

(Note: the following list is not ranked; it’s sorted by the geographical order presented on Monday. Sizes are approximate.)

Russell Road

Size: 63 acres

This is one of the newer possibilities to emerge, at least publicly. Situated just across Interstate 15 from Mandalay Bay, the large vacant lot between Russell Road and Hacienda Avenue is owned by lenders who foreclosed on the land several years ago. Owners include Barclays and Credit Suisse. Developer Jack Kashani wanted to build an expo center there two years ago, but nothing materialized.

The site benefits from its proximity to Interstate 15 and the Strip. McCarran isn’t too far away, either. CBRE broker Michael Parks said its accessibility for both tourists and locals, as well as a strong ability to get drivers in and out smoothly, were “definitely the major selling points” there.

Also, Parks, who is marketing the site for sale, said its cost should fit well within the expectations of stadium backers. Estimates on Monday showed as much as $250 million for land acquisition.

Still, being just off the south end of the Strip, the site is more removed from the resort corridor’s epicenter — and UNLV — than some of the other possibilities on the table. And while its size is certainly not the smallest of possible stadium spots, it’s probably not the biggest, either.

UNLV — Thomas & Mack Center

Size: 65 acres

This possibility surfaced after serious concerns arose with the original UNLV option. Plans shown to the committee on Monday indicated that the site would string together some 45 contiguous acres along Swenson Street and Tropicana, encompassing the parking lot by the Thomas & Mack Center, plus an additional 10 acres on Swenson just north of that and another 10 acres on the other side of Tropicana.

The presentation noted that backers anticipated working with Clark County to “resolve existing traffic issues” at Tropicana and Swenson, including a realignment of Swenson to the west and a possible flyover at Tropicana. The presentation also suggested that there was more room available for parking and tailgating.

Click to enlarge photo

The exterior of Thomas & Mack Center as seen from Rivea at Delano Las Vegas on Feb. 2, 2016.

Putting the stadium there would give UNLV something it has long desired: an on-campus football facility for the Rebels. That’s a selling point that can’t be overlooked. But the site’s proximity to McCarran may be an insurmountable obstacle. Rosemary Vassiliadis, the airport’s director of aviation, told the infrastructure committee that an interlocal contract from 1996 restricted building heights in that area. Backers would need to work around that, and any other airport-related concerns, to make this site viable.

UNLV — Trop-42

Size: 42 acres

As the first specific location discussed publicly for the stadium project, UNLV’s 42 acres on Tropicana Avenue near Koval Lane seemed like the front-runner for a while. Just like the Thomas & Mack site, the location would put the stadium right at UNLV, bringing the football team and the game day experience directly to campus.

It’s also not that far from the Strip and, if traffic issues were resolved, the land’s proximity to McCarran could be a selling point, too. The site would be easily reachable for locals, students and tourists alike. Monday’s presentation said more space was available for parking and tailgating, too.

But the so-called Trop-42 is less than a half-mile from the end of two major airport runways, and that’s become a major sticking point. Most significantly, two executives from Southwest Airlines recently signed a letter to the chairman of the Clark County Commission saying the airline was “extremely concerned” about putting the stadium there.

Southwest’s letter referenced safety concerns about “video boards and signage, light displays, fireworks, helicopters and drones.” The letter said a stadium on that site would also get in the way of next-generation arrival procedures under development. And executives said they “must oppose this site due to vehicle gridlock alone.”

After Southwest’s letter came out, executives from Sands and Majestic each said Trop-42 was still on the table. If no creative fixes to Southwest’s concerns can be found, though, it does not not appear likely to be the ultimate site.

“Fertitta site” (Wild Wild West)

Size: 100 acres

Station Casinos’ vast off-Strip site on West Tropicana currently includes the Wild Wild West casino and a lot of other land nearby. Like the Russell site, it’s conveniently located just across I-15 from the Strip — but even closer to the center of the action. It’s also a relatively direct drive down Tropicana to the airport.

Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, the brothers behind Station, once had grand visions of building a $10 billion resort complex called Viva on the Wild Wild West site. Those plans never came to fruition, but a Station executive has said the company was open to a deal for using part of that land for a stadium. Monday’s presentation noted, however, that backers still needed to determine exactly how much of the 100 acres was available.

Click to enlarge photo

Wild Wild West casino located just west of I-215 and Tropicana on Wednesday afternoon, Dec. 9, 2009 in Las Vegas.

While ripe with opportunity, the Wild Wild West site does present some big obstacles.

Even on a normal day with no stadium there, the intersection of Tropicana and I-15 can easily become a traffic nightmare. That’s certainly an issue that officials would work to address, and it’s a big one. Also, it’s not as if it’s a huge plot of vacant land like some of the other sites under consideration — the site would have to be cleared in order to build a stadium there.

Wynn golf course

Size: 139 acres

The expansive golf course behind Wynn Las Vegas and Encore brings with it a lot of benefits. First, at more than 130 acres, it’s huge. It’s also directly behind a major Strip resort and situated right on Paradise Road near the Las Vegas Convention Center — and a direct drive to the airport.

Click to enlarge photo

An early rendering of Wynn Paradise Park.

But Wynn Resorts Chairman and CEO Steve Wynn has other plans for the golf course land: That’s where he wants to develop his big Paradise Park project, which would include a huge lagoon, a 1,000-room hotel tower, a boardwalk, meeting space and more. A Wynn Resorts spokesman has said there would be ample room for both a stadium and Paradise Park, but it’s not clear how many acres would be devoted to each. Traffic is likely to be a big concern as well.

Riviera/LVCVA site

Size: 47 acres

This site’s potential — or lack thereof — to house a stadium is wrapped up in a separate undertaking.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority bought the site of the former Riviera hotel-casino for more than $182 million last year, planning to replace it with more convention space. The authority has taken big steps toward doing just that: It’s already imploded one Riviera hotel tower, demolished much of the other structures there and made plans to implode another tower next month.

Eventually, the area, which includes the authority’s adjacent Gold Lot, should house a new convention facility built as part of the authority’s planned $1.4 billion expansion and renovation of the Las Vegas Convention Center. The infrastructure committee just approved a recommendation to fund and oversee that project this week.

Click to enlarge photo

The Riviera's Monaco Tower is imploded early Tuesday morning in Las Vegas on June 14, 2016.

In theory, it’s possible to fit both the convention center and a stadium on the authority’s land. Doing so could not only put the stadium near Las Vegas Boulevard, but also allow for an interesting relationship between the two facilities. (The authority might find possible uses of the stadium, for example. Assuming it's domed, it could theoretically be used for large trade shows).

Yet even putting aside any possible traffic considerations, the facilities almost certainly cannot both fit on the existing 47 acres — more land acquisitions would be necessary. And that stands to be very costly.

Old Wet ‘n Wild site

Size: 27 acres

This is the same site where Jackie Robinson, a former basketball player for UNLV and in the NBA, proposed building a $1.4 billion, 22,000-seat retractable-roof arena and nongaming resort.

Robinson and project designers announced plans to start construction at an event in 2014, but two years later, no facility has been built there. That’s left open the possibility that the Sands- and Majestic-backed stadium could be built on the old water park site between SLS Las Vegas and the mothballed Fontainebleau development.

It’s attractive because it’s right on Las Vegas Boulevard and the land is vacant. At 27 acres, however, it’s also very small, particularly compared with some of the other sites on the table.

MGM festival grounds

Size: 35 acres

MGM Resorts International revamped this land across from SLS Las Vegas in 2015, when the Rock in Rio music festival was held there. The ACM Party for a Cause event also was staged on the festival grounds this year, but other than that, it’s remained pretty quiet at the southwest corner of Sahara Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard.

Enter the stadium proposal. MGM Resorts President Bill Hornbuckle, a member of the infrastructure committee, suggested at the committee’s June meeting that his company was open to discussing putting the stadium there. He later said in a statement that MGM Resorts had met with “the stadium group” and had “what we feel are productive discussions.”

According to Hornbuckle, MGM Resorts made an offer that would put the stadium on at least part of the festival grounds. He said the company “offered to carry that investment as an equity stake in the stadium at fair market value to be determined at a future date.”

As with any possible site on the Strip, the location is appealing for its Las Vegas Boulevard address and its closeness to the valley’s bustling tourism industry. Though the property is not as big as some of the other sites, events that have been held there showed that large numbers of people could be moved in and out of the area. There’s also a Las Vegas Monorail stop nearby at SLS. Still, space is likely to remain a key consideration there.

Cost could be an issue as well, given that the site includes 26 acres that MGM Resorts’ predecessor, MGM Mirage, bought for $444 million several years ago. Yet Hornbuckle’s offer to carry the land as equity could theoretically ease that issue.

Cashman Center

Size: 50 acres

The city of Las Vegas wants to revamp the home of Cashman Field, where the Las Vegas 51s baseball team plays. With the 51s potentially moving to a newer, nicer facility at some point, Cashman is an ideal spot for redevelopment.

Click to enlarge photo

Fans make their way to Cashman Stadium, a bustling place as the Big League Weekend baseball game which features the Chicago Cubs and New York Mets there on Friday, April 1, 2016.

The site along Washington Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard isn't plagued by the traffic, cost or airport issues faced by other prospective locations. The downside of that, however, is that it is much more removed from the Strip, UNLV and the airport — and all the people coming and going from those places.

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