Monday, March 27, 2017 | 2 a.m.
PHOENIX — In the heart of the Sonoran desert stands the Arizona Biltmore resort, a stunning oasis built in 1929 that long has served as a getaway for the famous and fabulous.
Wealth and power will gather at the Biltmore again this week as National Football League owners hold their annual meeting. It reaches 120 degrees here in the summer, but today, those 32 men likely will make hell freeze over.
Yes, the NFL appears ready to come to Las Vegas.
“I think it’s going to be an exciting day for Vegas,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Sunday.
For decades, this day felt tantalizingly close yet impossibly beyond their fingers for Las Vegans weary of being leveraged by professional sports franchises in all four major sports to get a better deal at home. The Montreal Expos flirted. The Sacramento Kings played footsy.
Even the Raiders looked shaky when casino magnate Sheldon Adelson backed out of his $650 million stake in the Las Vegas stadium project in January.
Today, though, the city’s year-long courtship with the silver-and-black nomads of the Golden State likely will conclude in a marriage of the NFL’s bad-boy franchise and the country’s bad-boy city.
Owners expect to vote as soon as mid-morning Monday on the Oakland Raiders’ application to relocate to Las Vegas following the team’s final presentation. A Raiders contingent including owner Mark Davis and president Marc Badain will explain how the team will pay for its $1.9 billion stadium project and why its options are exhausted for remaining in a larger TV market with a stronger economy.
If 24 of the league’s owners vote for Nevada and its $750 million commitment of public tax money, the Raiders could begin playing in Las Vegas by the 2020 season. A conditional approval remains a distinct possibility because the team still lacks a development agreement to build the stadium, a lease with the Las Vegas Stadium Authority to use it and a deal with UNLV to share it.
That could push the final thumbs-up to the league’s next meeting in May.
“I’m still cautiously optimistic and in fairness, they are taking nothing for granted,” Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak said. “They are shoring up their supporters. They’re still trying to convince people who have questions. They’ll be working until they call for the vote come Monday.”
In addition to Jones, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft said he “hopes” owners have enough votes to send the Raiders to Las Vegas, and Los Angeles Chargers owner Dean Spanos spoke enthusiastically about the project as well.
Sisolak met with Badain last week in Las Vegas and expressed confidence both in the vote and in the team’s complex financing plans that include at least $850 million in loans. Sisolak received an up-close look at documents on paying for the stadium and filling it with revenue-generating events when neither the Raiders nor UNLV are playing football.
“They showed me their pro formas and their analysis of their debt service and based on their assumptions — they’re not overly liberal, they’re not overly conservative — they’ll be able to service the debt,” Sisolak said. “They have to be able to book outside events, have to get the sponsorships, have to sell the (personal seat licenses,) but it’s doable.”
The Raiders are obligated to play in Oakland for the 2017 season and likely will remain there for 2018 as well, setting up a breakup long enough to make high-school sweethearts wince. Where the team plays in 2019 remains in question, but Sam Boyd Stadium appears unlikely, according to multiple sources. The soonest the new stadium could be ready for the Raiders is 2020.
Progress continues on a lease for that stadium, authority board chairman Steve Hill said Friday.
“We’re just going through the process of working through and putting together a new draft of the agreement so that we can have something available before the board meeting in April,” Hill said.
Both Sisolak and Hill chose not to come to the Biltmore because they felt their presence could not do anything to advance the cause at this late hour. Everything now lies in the Raiders’ hands to complete the third move in franchise history.
Big league sports first arrived in Las Vegas months ago when the National Hockey League stepped onto the Strip, and now the country’s preferred sport looks poised to grab the largest public stadium funding deal in American history to bring Las Vegans the team they have cheered from afar seemingly forever.