Las Vegas Sun

December 13, 2017

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Panels talk Raiders and the future of pro sports in Las Vegas

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Copyright 2017 LV Stadium Company, LLC

This rendering shows the Las Vegas Raiders stadium west of Interstate 15 and the Strip. Construction on the 65,000-seat stadium is expected to begin by the end of the year and is hoped to be completed in time for the 2020 NFL season.

Imagine trying to explain last week’s panel discussions on the future of professional sports in Las Vegas even five years ago.

Executives from the Raiders and Golden Knights joined representatives from Las Vegas Motor Speedway, UNLV and the new Las Vegas Lights of the United Soccer League (USL) to look forward into the region’s future as a sports hub at a luncheon last Tuesday. Two days later, commercial real estate professionals listened to a morning talk on the fast-approaching start of construction on the $1.9 billion stadium project.

“We’re at a tipping point as a marketplace,” Golden Knights President Kerry Bubolz said at the meeting of the UNLV Rebel Business Network. “I think we got a really unique opportunity.”

The Golden Knights play the first game of a Las Vegas-based professional sports franchise in one of North America’s four major sports in just 11 days. While the Raiders will not play here until 2020, Nevada’s $750 million public investment in their stadium will take shape beginning in December.

Neither appeared possible even two years ago, but a confluence of influence at the local and state levels led to Las Vegas becoming home to two major league teams.

“That's been the biggest shock for me,” said Mark Shearer, Raiders senior vice president of business development/chief revenue officer, who recently moved to the valley from the Bay Area. “You see people who should be at odds rolling together because it's for the greater good of Las Vegas.”

A few notes of interest from the two gatherings:

Agreement delays do not concern stadium authority chairman: Las Vegas Stadium Authority board Chairman Steve Hill said after Thursday’s discussion that an unplanned delay in completing the stadium development agreement with the Raiders could be a blessing.

“That would have been tough,” Hill said. “Just from working through all the issues, working through all the drafts, it would been tough to meet that October deadline. It does provide some additional time to do that work because there were going to be some really long nights for folks if the Oct. 12 meeting (required us) to pretty much present everything.”

The development agreement now will wait until February, although stadium site work is already happening. That also pushes back other documents including the UNLV joint-use agreement.

In working earlier on the now-completed stadium lease agreement, Hill repeatedly pointed to the need for deadlines to spur action in negotiations. He said Thursday the removal of the October deadline will not become a problem, citing the need for contractors, banks and the NFL to review agreements before they come before the board early next year.

“I think everybody’s aware,” Hill said. “Look, don’t take two months off. It allows us to do it more in the normal course.”

• More stadium parking nixed for ride-sharing space: Engineer Ken Ackeret of Kimley-Horn — the firm that produced the heavily discussed Raiders traffic and parking study — said initial plans for the stadium site included more than the 2,400 parking spots in the final version.

A chunk of the site along Hacienda Avenue could have added additional stalls, but project planners chose to dedicate that area to Uber and Lyft vehicles shuttling fans to games. Raiders and stadium authority officials repeatedly have asserted their plan incorporates ride-sharing like no previous stadium. Considering the site includes only 15 percent of the parking spaces required by county code for the 65,000-seat stadium, that decision makes plenty of sense.

• Speaking of parking …: Attention was focused on Don Webb’s comments about the potentially changing makeup of Raider Nation in Las Vegas, but the Raiders stadium consultant continued to drop hints about how the team will deal with its parking shortage.

At previous stadium authority meetings, Webb downplayed the parking issue by saying essentially that the Raiders knew from the start that the 62-acre site for which they paid $77.5 million could not accommodate enough parking. He expounded this week by saying multiple parking locations might provide the best solution.

“The whole issue of parking is something to be designed just like the plumbing systems,” Webb said. “The idea of tailgating is going to be dispersed the same way parking is going to be dispersed. I think there's a really strong argument to be made in favor of disperse parking in multiple locations.”

That does not sound like an endorsement for the Bali Hai Golf Course site. The Kimley-Horn study indicates that land across the freeway from the stadium could fit 13,000 parking spaces. The site is under lease to developer Billy Walters, who recently was convicted on federal insider trading charges and soon will go to prison. Walters also faces a $25 million judgment, while site lessor Clark County must deal with a Department of Justice lawsuit seeking $70 million in underpaid rent.

Shearer said Tuesday the Raiders will lean on local experts for help finding answers, in part because of the challenges of trying to work both in Oakland and in Las Vegas at the same time.

“The problem we've got is we’re running two businesses essentially,” Shearer said. “There’s the expression ‘drinking from a fire hose’ — that's what we're doing.”

• Major League Soccer the ultimate soccer GOOOOOOAL?: In the other kind of football, Lights owner Brett Lashbrook offered the most interesting take on the future of Las Vegas sports. Even before his USL team begins play next year, the former MLS executive predicted America’s largest soccer league will call Las Vegas home within the next 10 years.

“In 10 years, you'll look back and laugh at doubting yourself that this would be a soccer city,” Lashbrook said.

Lashbrook also hinted at trying to create a situation similar to baseball’s spring training for soccer in Las Vegas, drawing in MLS teams in March to train and prepare for the upcoming season. With college basketball conference tournaments and the opening weekend of March Madness already filling the local sports calendar in that month, adding soccer could provide an interesting alternative for non-hoops fans.