Interesting news out of Sin City: Tony Hsieh and/or the Howard Hughes Corporation are in talks to buy the Las Vegas 51s (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League).
It’s no secret Stevens Baseball has the team on the block: a deal to sell the franchise to Chris Milam died last year after the developer walked away from the announced purchase of the team, realizing his plan to put the team as a new tenant in a billion-dollar-plus sports development wasn’t all that feasible.
But the naming of Hsieh (pronouced shay) in the Review-Journal (the local newspaper that actually owns 10 percent of the 51s) is interesting on a couple of levels. First, Hsieh is the founder and head of Zappos.com, the online shoe-sales firm with an obsessive commitment to customer service. Getting someone like Hsieh, one of the true visionaries of the digital age, into Minor League Baseball circles would be a coup for the sport. His book, Delivering Happiness, is a must-read text for anyone doing business these days.
Secondly, any more by Hsieh to buy the team means there’s a new or dramatically renovated ballpark in the 51s future. He’s involved in a $350-million makeover of downtown Las Vegas that calls for Zappos.com to move into a renovated City Hall when a new City Hall opens, along with a whole slew of urban development designed to make the downtown Las Vegas area an alluring place for young urban professionals to work, shop, dine and launch businesses. He’s raising money and buying land, and has a definite vision for the downtown of tomorrow, realized in Las Vegas; as Inc. reported:
Hsieh doesn’t tell me everything during this particular conversation, which takes place in the spring of 2010. He doesn’t know everything yet. But he can already see a plan for the city forming in his mind. He sees barren streets blooming to life, lush with the revelries of thousands of creative young people. He sees new bars and nightclubs, hosting bands that college towns such as Austin and Athens, Georgia, would wish they had. He sees art galleries and yoga studios and bookstores and charter schools and zip lines. He sees the next great American city, sprouting up, miraculously, in the most blighted part of the most blighted city of the most blighted state in the country.
Making baseball part of this ambitious endeavor is an exciting prospect. No offense to Howard Hughes Corp.: a sale of the team to that firm would be good news for Las Vegas baseball fans as well. Hughes is a major property developer in Las Vegas, and there’s really only one good reason for the 51s to be bought by Hughes: to be placed as part of some sort of development.
In any case, either would mean major changes for Cashman Field, the aging home of the 51s that doesn’t quite meet MiLB facility guidelines — it lacks batting cages, for instance. On the plus side, the Cashman Field site has plenty of land, especially if an aging convention center is torn down. On the minus side, there’s probably no way the city will put a single dollar into a new ballpark or an extensively renovated facility — but Hughes certainly has the deep pockets to make a ballpark development work.
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