A’s turned down $1 plot in resort corridor before settling on site for $1.5B Vegas stadium
The Oakland A’s, seeking $500 million in public financing for a new baseball stadium site just west of the Strip, could have paid only $1 for another site in the resort corridor.
Eric Birnbaum, CEO of New York-based Dreamscape Cos., which acquired the Rio Hotel & Casino in 2019, told The Nevada Independent the company offered to sell the A’s roughly 22 acres of the nearly 90-acre, off-Strip site for $1.
Birnbaum said the transaction could have greatly reduced some of the costs associated with the land acquisition.
“I'm a developer. That makes the development deal look a lot better,” Birnbaum said. “I'm pretty good at math [and] I would assume that if you had no land price, and another site did have a land price, that the total sum of dollars needed for a development of a stadium would be less than the site that did have a land price associated with it.”
The A’s rejected that location, and when a deal for the 37-acre Las Vegas Festival Grounds at the corner of the Strip and Sahara Avenue collapsed, the team announced a binding agreement last week to acquire 49 acres bordered by Tropicana Avenue and Dean Martin Drive as the site for a $1.5 billion, 35,000-seat, retractable-roof stadium and entertainment complex.
One gaming analyst speculated the A’s are paying Red Rock Resorts upward of $150 million for the former home of the since-demolished Wild Wild West casino, but the figure isn’t expected to be disclosed until the sale closes.
With the stadium site designated, the A’s are now focused on gaining legislative approval for a $500 million public financing contribution. Proponents of the deal have said the contribution would ideally come from sales taxes and other fees paid by consumers at the venue and other attractions surrounding the stadium site.
Democratic legislative leaders and lobbyists were seen attending a half-hourlong meeting with A’s President David Kaval in Carson City on Wednesday.
The A’s and the team’s consultants spent much of the past two years looking at more than 20 potential stadium sites throughout the Las Vegas Valley in an effort to relocate from Oakland.
Before settling on Red Rock Resorts’ land, the A’s and the team’s representatives focused efforts since last year on the Festival Grounds.
However, 88-year-old billionaire Phil Ruffin, who acquired the location in 2019 as part of an $825 million deal with MGM Resorts International, cut off discussions that had been ongoing for several months.
Ruffin, who owns Treasure Island and Circus Circus, declined to be interviewed. In a statement provided to The Nevada Independent, a spokesperson for the company said, “Mr. Ruffin was not able to finalize a deal with the A's for the Las Vegas Festival Grounds but he loves the idea of having the A's come to Las Vegas and wishes them great success here.”
Kaval said Red Rock Resorts’ land just west of Interstate 15 was the location the team always coveted because the parcel was both in the resort corridor and in close proximity to Allegiant Stadium, home of the NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders, and T-Mobile Arena, where the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights play their home games.
“From the beginning, we had a strong interest in this site,” Kaval said, reiterating the team had explored nearly two dozen locations in Southern Nevada with its consultants, seeking land that could accommodate the ballpark and the adjoining restaurants, retail and other entertainment locations that would be open year-round.
“It also creates a sports venue district. When it became available, we moved on it,” he said.
Kaval confirmed the talks with Ruffin and said the Festival Grounds “didn’t play out and was no longer an option.” He said the team finalized the agreement with Red Rock Resorts because of time constraints in getting the tax incentive package in front of the Nevada Legislature.
Gaming and traffic
Last year, when Red Rock announced plans to demolish three closed casinos in Henderson and North Las Vegas and sell the land, the gaming entitlements on the sites were not included.
However, the A’s are reportedly keeping the gaming entitlements on the former Wild Wild West property, meaning taverns and restaurants that are part of the entertainment district could offer restricted gaming — 15 or fewer slot machines — through a slot route operation.
Several sources questioned the traffic issues along Tropicana Avenue, where the highway’s interchange with I-15 is undergoing a renovation expected to be completed in 2025.
But Kaval said the team’s transportation consultants said the new construction makes the location one of the best sites for locals to get to the stadium. He said a study conducted by Las Vegas-based economic research firm Applied Analysis showed 70 percent of the fans attending the A’s games would be local residents.
“You have the ability to get there from Summerlin, from Henderson [and] from North Las Vegas. It is just a really good site for a baseball stadium from a traffic and parking situation.”
Sources familiar with the A’s conversations said the team expressed concern with traffic access to a stadium site from West Flamingo Road, just west of Interstate 15. The Rio is roughly a mile from the Strip.
According to the summary page of a traffic study completed for Dreamscape by planning and design consultant Kimley-Horn, the initial findings said the proposed ballpark had limited event access options to support a sold-out event without experiencing long vehicle delays.
However, in a follow-up report, Kimley-Horn made several suggestions to improve onsite traffic circulation on game days, including new access points to the Rio land from Valley View Boulevard and Polaris Avenue, that would connect the site to Spring Mountain Road and the Desert Inn Super Arterial.
“Our findings and recommendations show that with the proposed facility roadway circulation and access improvements a sold-out stadium event is expected to operate within the expectations of Las Vegas local and tourist event patrons,” Kimley-Horn wrote in the report.
Birnbaum said Dreamscape offered the A’s a choice as either “an island unto themselves” or a connection to the Rio for “a more fully integrated experience. We were really amenable to whatever they wanted.”
While disappointed the deal didn't work out, Birnbaum said he accepted the A's decision "and we wished them well."
Still supporting the A’s
The Festival Grounds' rejection disappointed gaming operators on the north end of the Strip and downtown. They viewed the location as a boost for an area left behind in the past two decades as development focused on the Strip’s south end.
“The venue would have brought new life to the north end of the Strip,” said Las Vegas gaming consultant Brendan Bussmann. “A baseball stadium would have seen steady flow with 80-plus games a year with likely other events to follow during that time or during the off-season.”
Representatives from several north Strip and downtown casinos, including Resorts World Las Vegas, Sahara and Circa, met with representatives from the A’s in February in support of the Festival Grounds. Clark County offered the A’s redevelopment dollars and the City of Las Vegas would have considered adding funds because of the proximity to downtown, according to sources not authorized to speak about the deal.
However, the gaming operators still favor the A’s coming to Las Vegas.
“We would have been very supportive and done anything we could in helping the A’s move to the Festival Grounds,” said Andrew Diss, vice president of government affairs for Meruelo Gaming, which owns the Sahara. “We may not be as engaged in the process, but we’re still glad the A’s are coming to Las Vegas."
Resorts World President Scott Sibella said in an email there was excitement about the prospect of a stadium landing just up the street from the 3,500-room hotel-casino. He hinted there was still hope prospects could change.
“I still strongly believe this is the ideal location for the ballpark as it would be a boost not only for the resorts in the area but would contribute to the ongoing revitalization north of Sahara and into downtown,” Sibella said. “Regardless of the final location, having the A’s come to Las Vegas is great for the entire Strip corridor and exciting for our community.”
Derek Stevens, who owns Circa Casino Resort, D Las Vegas and Golden Gate in downtown Las Vegas, said in a statement he was a supporter of the A’s coming to Las Vegas.
“This is an exciting time for the city as it continues to reinvent itself and expand its sports landscape," he said.
Last year, real estate investment trust Gaming and Leisure Properties said a portion of the Tropicana Las Vegas was being considered by the A’s, but the property’s operator, Bally’s Corp., wasn’t considering any redevelopment plans for the Rat Pack-era casino until late this year or 2024.
Boyd Gaming, which owns three downtown casinos, “wasn’t actively engaged” in conversations regarding the A’s, said CEO Keith Smith. However, he expected the company’s Orleans Hotel & Casino would benefit from its proximity less than a mile west of the selected stadium site.
“Anything that brings more people to town would be a net positive for us,” Smith said.
Nevada Independent reporter Tabitha Mueller contributed to this story.