Broadcaster Steve Stone and Chicago investor Lou Weisbach has been seeking to bring MLB to Las Vegas for over 15 years, with an initial effort emerging when the future of the Montreal Expos was in play. At that time, the proposed location for a new domed ballpark was right off the Strip, between casino row and I-15.
With the Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays both potentially in play, Weisbach and Stone have launched a new effort to bring MLB to Las Vegas. No word on where it could sit, but speculators have been buying parcels near the Rio Casino, just across I-15 from the Strip. Weisbach says he envisions a billion-dollar privately financed ballpark basically built on spec. From the Las Vegas Review-Journal:
This time, the plan is to build a stadium first and deal with securing a team — whether by expansion or relocation — second.
“We’ve got people who are willing to fund it and are excited about it,” Weisbach said. “We want to actually build a stadium that not only would accommodate a Major League Baseball team but also would accommodate all forms of entertainment and would really be the kind of stadium that you would expect Las Vegas to have.”
Because of the temperature during the summer, a stadium almost assuredly would require a retractable roof, raising the price dramatically….
“It’s our view that you can’t build a generic stadium in Las Vegas,” Weisbach said. “We want the stadium to be a place … people from around the world will view as a destination site and so it’s got to be really unique and so it’s going to be at the higher end of any baseball stadium that’s ever been built so in excess of a billion dollars.”
The facilities situation in Las Vegas will be a huge challenge to this plan. First, the new Las Vegas Raiders stadium currently under construction is expected to be a big draw besides the eight-10 NFL games played there: it’s designed to host a wide range of events aside from pro football. And, when including land costs, a billion dollars may not be enough. (The price tag for the new Raiders stadium: $1.9 billion.)
Then there’s the whole issue of an MLB team being available. The Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays both have new-ballpark plans in the works. Let’s say they both end up staying in their markets, a not unreasonable expectation. Many in the industry say it’s a given that MLB will expand to 32 teams at some point: the scheduling advantages are many and the league’s financial picture will be clear once Oakland and Tampa Bay are settled situations. That’s why Montreal and Portland groups are already positioned to be in front of the expansion queue, and you can bet some other cities will look at expansion bids as well. Can Vegas support MLB in addition to NHL and NFL? That’s the billion-dollar question.