(Jeff Scheid/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Ground breaking near for $1.4 billion Strip arena complex

Developer Jackie Robinson stands at the old Wet 'n' Wild site on Tuesday, Oct. 21 2014. He is scheduled to break ground on Oct. 29 on a new $690 million arena as part of a $1.4 billion project.

A white Chevrolet Suburban pulled into the vacant 27-acre site off Paradise Road between the SLS Las Vegas and Turnberry Towers, and a 6-foot, 6-inch man dressed in a gray pinstripe suit, white shirt and pink tie eased out of the long SUV and strolled along the gray pavement.

Jackie Robinson, the former UNLV and NBA player and a cousin of the man who integrated Major League Baseball, surveyed the sprawling site that extended from Paradise to the Strip.

It’s a blank asphalt slate now – but not for long.

Robinson plans a groundbreaking Wednesday to mark the construction start of a $1.4 billion arena, hotel and shopping project that has quietly moved ahead as a soccer stadium debate rages in Las Vegas, UNLV delayed its campus football stadium by two years and MGM Resorts International builds its $375 million, 20,000-seat arena behind New York-New York on the Strip.

Robinson’s privately funded arena will cost $690 million, and he has lined up an arena management heavyweight – Philadelphia-based Comcast-Spectacor – to schedule programming and manage the 22,000-seat retractable-roof arena.

Robinson, 59, and a Los Angeles native, said construction crews will begin ripping up the pavement in December and the arena is projected to open in early 2017. The 500-room hotel will be nongaming, with retail outlets, a grocery store, movie theater, offices, underground parking and a plaza as parts of the project.

The site is owned by Paul Lowden’s Archon Corp. Robinson said he has an option to buy and noted that Lowden might be included in some facet of the project.

MGM and its 50/50 arena partner, Anschutz Entertainment Group of Los Angeles, held its groundbreaking May 1, nearly six months ago. Robinson’s arena will have a groundbreaking that will attract his former basketball teammates Reggie Theus and Alejandra Castillo, national director of the Minority Business Development Agency.

Robinson is using his NBA contacts to stir interest in drawing an NBA team to the facility, he said. Las Vegas is on the NBA radar for a team because of the success of the NBA Summer League, he added.

His funding sources include the Carlton Group and foreign investors in the federal “EB-5 visa” program, which allows investors to receive visas if they invest $500,000 in projects, he said.

Robinson is confident the project will work financially with enough revenue because he said the arena is being augmented by other revenue-makers such as the hotel and retail space.
He said that because his hotel will not have gambling, it will attract religious groups such as Mormons and even the Saudis. He also expects companies to hold corporate events at his project.

Robinson noted his arena – like the MGM-AEG venue that is scheduled to open in spring 2016 – will make a run at luring the National Finals Rodeo from the Thomas & Mack Center, where Robinson starred as a basketball player from 1973-78. He played for the NBA Seattle Supersonics, Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls from 1978-82.

Robinson said his former UNLV coach, Jerry Tarkanian, will attend the groundbreaking if his health allows it.

(Jeff Scheid/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Arena builder takes shot at landing NBA for Las Vegas

Jackie Robinson speaks during groundbreaking for the proposed All Net Arena and Resort Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2014.

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.