The $750 million public financing deal to bring the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas started with a handshake and a promise inside the governor’s mansion.
The football team’s owner, Mark Davis, looked Gov. Brian Sandoval in the eye and vowed to make the relocation happen if lawmakers approved the tax increase funding the public contribution. They shook hands and, soon thereafter, Sandoval called a special legislative session.
“It’s just one of those moments,” Sandoval said Monday night. “It all came down to looking each other in the eye and shaking hands. I took him at his word. I believed him. He’s a man of integrity, and he followed through.”
More than a year later, the unlikely duo — the well-coiffed, popular Republican governor and the millionaire team owner with a bowl-cut hairstyle and penchant for pin-striped suits — clutched shovels Monday night and turned the first dirt, signaling the start of construction for the estimated $1.9 billion stadium project.
The ceremonial event happened despite a few loose ends that still need tying up, including a long-awaited community benefits plan. The Las Vegas Stadium Authority last week reviewed a draft of the 10-page document, which is supposed to ensure participation from local businesses and minority workers. Board members have expressed concern about some aspects of the team-proposed plan, but the parties’ differences of opinion weren’t on display last night.
“We formed a public-private partnership — a partnership in which everyone wins,” Davis told attendees. “And, tonight, as a result of that partnership, we are breaking ground on the most magnificent stadium right here in the entertainment capital of the world.”
In true Las Vegas fashion, the groundbreaking ceremony featured musical performances, pep rally-style videos, actor George Lopez as the host and the famous Strip skyline as the backdrop. Guests parked at the Delano Las Vegas and rode buses to the construction site, where they sat underneath a giant tent erected on the rocky, desert terrain.
Inside, union laborers offered periodic, hearty “Raiders!” chants, elongating the first syllable of the team name.
“Only in Vegas can you turn a groundbreaking ceremony into a show,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell quipped.
But the show also carried a somber reminder of the heartache the city endured last month: Fifty-eight beams of light illuminated the night sky, one for each of the victims killed in the Oct. 1 shooting. Raiders officials and state dignitaries were quick to praise first responders as proof of the teamwork that exists in Las Vegas.
“It’s the get-it-done state, and that’s the attitude of the people here in Las Vegas that will help raise the bar for sports and entertainment experiences and make this stadium the place to be,” Goodell said.
But don’t expect to see the stadium site — located west of Interstate 15 and north of Russell Road — flooded with construction equipment quite yet.
Raiders President Marc Badain said the team is finishing prep work on the land and ironing out building agreements with the county. Mass excavation should begin in the next six to eight weeks, he said.
“We’ll start digging the hole,” he said. “You’ll start to see a lot more activity on the site.”
The fenced-off construction site and tight security, however, didn’t stop Raiders enthusiasts from enjoying the groundbreaking hooplah.
Tony Curiel, 52, didn’t want to miss what he termed a “history-making day” in Las Vegas. So the former Raiders season ticket holder — back when the football team called Los Angeles home — packed up carne asada, chicken, rice, beans and hot links and headed to a gravel parking lot opposite the stadium site.
His arrival time: 9 a.m.
Start of the groundbreaking ceremony: 5 p.m.
“We’re so excited they’re coming,” he said, standing inside his makeshift tailgate party. “Who would have thought?”
Curiel is president of the fledgling Sin City Malosos, a year-old booster club that uses the Spanish word for “Raiders.” The group, one of several Las Vegas-based fan organizations for the team, has roughly 15 members and counting. Curiel expects the team to receive an avalanche of support once it finally moves to Las Vegas.
“The whole town is going to be Raiders town,” he said.
The Raiders fever has extended to nearby businesses as well. They’re eagerly anticipating a likely customer surge starting with the construction phase and continuing throughout the stadium’s lifespan.
A Holiday Inn Express, which sits on the south side of Russell Road, faces the stadium site. Not only is it a short walk away, but the hotel’s upper windows provide a perfect photo opportunity for guests, said Tatiana Bynum, a front desk agent.
Across the street, a Terrible Herbst employee echoed the hotel staff’s enthusiasm. The corner gas station thrives on weekdays right now, but the store’s manager, Lulian Aneseko, predicts that will change once the Raiders roll into town, bringing thousands of football fans to the stadium.
“Everybody is excited about it — even the customers,” she said.
Crazy Horse III, also a short walk from the stadium, isn’t waiting to cash in on the neighborhood’s newest addition. The conveniently located strip club just launched its “Hard Hat Happy Hour,” which treats stadium construction workers to a complimentary drink from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. daily.
The club’s director of brand marketing, Lindsay Feldman, promises more Raiders-related deals in the future.
“We look forward to launching new and exciting promotions for game days,” she wrote in an email.
If all goes as planned, the Raiders’ first kickoff in Las Vegas should happen as the 2020 football season opens.