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.