As John Fisher and Dave Kaval make another Vegas run to determine interest in a new Athletics ballpark, it’s interesting to consider who could possibly ante up a billion dollars for a new retractable-roof facility. It’s a short list, to be sure.
One outcome of this trip, which took place Monday and Tuesday, has seen the list of potential ballpark sites—as defined by Fisher and Kaval—swell to 20 or so and include Summerlin, the Strip, Las Vegas proper (including the Cashman Field area), and Henderson. Compiling that list was an important part of this week’s visit.
“The reality is that all the sites have a lot of positive attributes and so I really don’t think we’re really in a position to remove any from the list at this time,” Kaval told the Las Vegas Review-Journal Tuesday afternoon. “We’re going to continue our due diligence and research and understanding of what the best locations are. But it’s really great that there are so many options and so many great ways to potentially make it work here in Southern Nevada.”
But many of the sites are problematic and already well-vetted when county officials debated the new Raiders stadium. Whereas the A’s expressed early enthusiasm for a location near Allegiant Stadium, home to Las Vegas Raiders and UNLV football, it’s not clear how viable that option really is. It’s an open secret in Clark County that the Raiders are dead set against a new next-door MLB ballpark—a huge obstacle in creating a sports-corridor deal. Kaval also identified a site controlled by UNLV on Tropicana Boulevard near McCarren International once considered as a Raiders stadium site, but that site was problematic because of potential impact on flights into and out of Las Vegas.
It’s also not clear how viable a Summerlin location is, despite Kaval’s interest: a planned suburban community created by Howard Hughes Corp., Summerlin hosts Las Vegas Ballpark, home of the Las Vegas Aviators (Triple-A West). Howard Hughes Corp. has been shedding assets in recent years and is quietly listening to offers for the Aviators and the ballpark; it’s hard to see Howard Hughes Corp. jumping on board for a billion-dollar ballpark. And visiting the Cashman Field area and proclaiming it as a potential ballpark site is a nice touch, but as of now the city still has a deal with a private investor for an MLS stadium and associated development at the property. Hard to see Mayor Carolyn Goodman—who did not meet with the A’s in this week’s trip—walk away from that deal and embrace a billion-dollar wooing of the Athletics.
The big question, however, isn’t one that can be addressed by a site selection. Throwing around potential ballpark sites is easy. The hard work comes in funding for what will likely be a billion-dollar facility. And right now there’s no pool of money sitting around that would fund a new ballpark.
Let’s begin with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA), which is likely the most powerful economic player in the greater Las Vegas area these days. It’s not a secret that COVID-19 restrictions hit the LVCVA hard; the authority experienced a $210 million loss in revenue in 2020, cut its budget by $150 million and dipped into reserves to the tune of $27 million. Tourism is the lifeblood of the Las Vegas economy, and the LVCVA is still operating in uncharted waters: yes, we are returning to normalcy, but exactly when Vegas returns to economic normalcy when it comes to tourism is up for debate. In addition, the LVCVA put off a planned expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center, and that may be back for consideration in coming year, becoming a big part of the capital budget. County funding may also be off the table as well; insiders with Clark County say there’s no great appetite for funding a new ballpark, with tourist-tax revenues in decline. (The other reason for hesitancy: Vegas embraced the NFL because every NFL game is an event. People plan their weekends around traveling to an NFL game: fly in Friday night, party Saturday, attend the game Sunday and fly back Sunday night. Baseball, on the other hand, is not an event-driven sport. No one plans their travel schedule to watch the Las Vegas Athletics host the Tampa Bay Rays on a Wednesday night.)
The same economic forces battering LVCVA also battered local resorts, and while conventions are returning to Vegas, resorts are still looking at a rough 2021 and 2022: again, it’s hard to say when and if the Vegas tourism economy returns to normal. (The rise of hybrid events is very bad news for Vegas officials.) Is there a resort owner with the wherewithal to commit a billion dollars to a new ballpark? Meeting with Phil Ruffin about a potential ballpark site at Circus Circus (yes, sportswriters, the jokes will write themselves) is one thing, but convincing him to put out a billion dollars for a new ballpark is another.
So let’s acknowledge that finding funding for a new Vegas ballpark will be difficult. And let’s also acknowledge that one benefit of a Vegas run is to put some pressure on Oakland and Alameda County officials to make a deal for a new Howard Terminal waterfront site. It’s hard to say whether they are feeling a whole lot of pressure. The Oakland City Council is set to discuss a potential term sheet for a new ballpark on July 20, but Alameda County—which has been asked to weigh in on any ballpark project—won’t even schedule a vote before September. What the A’s are requesting keeps growing in complexity and now includes two different tax districts (one covering the Howard Terminal development site, one for infrastructure in the general area). The July 20 meeting could well lead to some sort of non-binding agreement but won’t come close to settling any issues.
But hey, if Vegas and Howard Terminal don’t work out, there’s always Vancouver, where 60 percent of British Columbia baseball fans like the idea of Major League Baseball in their province. That’s before seeing the price tag for a new ballpark, of course. Everyone loves a free milkshake.
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