The groundbreaking for Jackie Robinson’s $1.4 billion arena and hotel project on the Strip on Wednesday fueled talk that the National Basketball Association will have a team in Las Vegas one day.
“It’s like the ‘Field of Dreams.’ Build it, and the NBA will come,” said former NBA star Spencer Haywood, one of about 350 people who attended the ceremony for the $690 million, 22,000-seat retractable roof arena and 500-room nongaming hotel next to SLS Las Vegas on the Strip’s north end.
Some of Robinson’s closest basketball friends, such as former UNLV and NBA stars Reggie Theus and Sidney Green, former Seattle SuperSonics teammate Gus Williams, and Haywood joined the All Net Arena and Resort construction team at the 27-acre former Wet ‘n’ Wild water park site.
Jerry Tarkanian, UNLV’s Hall of Fame basketball coach, was among the guests, who included many of Robinson’s fellow church congregants and family members. Robinson was a 1970s-era UNLV basketball star who played in the NBA from 1978-82.
It’s the second arena on the Strip to stage a groundbreaking in less than six months. The MGM Resorts International/Anschutz Entertainment Group partnership broke ground May 1 for a $375 million, 20,000-seat venue behind New York-New York. Both arenas are being privately financed. MGM-AEG hopes to open its arena in spring 2016, while Robinson projects an early 2017 opening.
Jack Ehrenhaus, The Carlton Group managing director of equity financings, told the audience his firm has a letter of intent to help finance Robinson’s project.
Robinson is also looking to line up 600 foreign investors to raise $300 million under the federal “EB-5 visa” program. The program allows investors to receive visas if they invest $500,000 in projects. Robinson has hired an immigration lawyer for this job.
Skeptics of the $1.4 billion project have only fueled Robinson’s motivation, Green said.
“There will always be doubters. It’s motivated him even more,” said Green, who was mentored by Robinson at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Robinson still has work to do. He must reach a development agreement with Clark County, which could happen by March 1, and he has a lease with an option to buy the land from Paul Lowden’s Archon Corp, said Brett Ewing, Robinson’s local architect.
Robinson’s financial adviser, Owen Jackson, said Robinson could have started building the arena years ago, but he waited to line up the financing so that the project could “be a minority-owned product. He wanted to make sure he owned at least 51 percent.”
County Commissioners Steve Sisolak, Lawrence Weekly, Chris Giunchigliani and Tom Collins attended. They welcomed the 19,000 construction and permanent jobs that Robinson said would be created by the arena-hotel project. It would include a 300,000-square-foot retail and restaurant plaza, a movie theater and a high-end grocery such as Whole Foods or Sprouts.
In an interview last week, Robinson said he envisioned a scenario where the NBA would move two Western Conference teams such as the Memphis Grizzlies and possibly the New Orleans Pelicans to the Eastern Conference to make room for new teams in Las Vegas and Seattle.