Seeking stadium handout, A’s reach “tentative” deal with Nevada officials

May 24, 2023 9:23 PM
Photo: Shutterstock
  • John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports
May 24, 2023 9:23 PM
  • John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports

After walking the bases full, politically speaking, the Oakland A’s appear to have found the strike zone in the team’s attempt to relocate and finance a new baseball stadium in Las Vegas.

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With Gov. Joe Lombardo leading the cheering section, Nevada elected officials and team executives announced a “tentative” agreement for a multimillion-dollar financing plan to fund part of a $1.5 billion retractable-roof stadium that seats 30,000 on land adjacent to the Tropicana Hotel and Casino.

Lombardo, who announced his support for a previous stadium plan with the team that fell through, said in a statement, “This agreement follows months of negotiations between the state, the county, and the A’s and I believe it gives us a tremendous opportunity to continue building on the professional sports infrastructure of southern Nevada. Las Vegas is clearly a sports town, and Major League Baseball should be a part of it.”

The team shopped several potential locations over the past year and at different points has been offered several parcels for little or no cost. It finally settled on nine free acres on a 35-acre site linked to the Tropicana, owned by Bally’s in conjunction with Gaming and Leisure Properties, Inc.

At the Nevada Legislature, the ink was still drying Wednesday in the bill draft for the enabling language to support the public end of the financing plan, said to be at least $325 million. That includes bond funding via Clark County, transferable tax credits, $25 million toward infrastructure costs, and a 30-year tax exemption.

While lower than the $500 million the team had batted around with legislators, it represents an enormous buy-in and set-aside for a team that had been locked in a years-long political negotiation with Oakland officials and has the lowest attendance numbers and the poorest winning percentage in all of Major League Baseball.

You wouldn’t know that by reading the breathless statements of elected officials responsible for playing watchdog over the public trust.

State Treasurer Zach Conine enthused, “This tentative agreement minimizes the risk to Nevada taxpayers in the most fiscally responsible manner. I’m also pleased that this project will leverage the most private investment of any baseball stadium in the country.”

Whatever the eventual cost to taxpayers, the stadium figures to be a boon for the prospects of the Tropicana, a casino-resort that opened in 1957 and has seen its fortunes roller-coaster over the years, while the rest of the Strip has largely evolved into a boulevard of megaresorts.

In a recent interview with The Nevada Independent, Bally’s Chairman Soo Kim expressed optimism about the stadium plan. The planned size of the stadium, larger than T-Mobile Arena and smaller than Allegiant Stadium, potentially makes it a complement to those venues, Kim said.

“By giving the A’s the land, we’re showing our belief in the value of having this stadium. I have good relations with a lot of the community groups in Vegas, which we’ve been building,” he said. “We’re going to have a very strong community-benefits package that makes it clear that everyone is benefiting from this.”

Kim’s relations with the southern Nevada community will be important in the wake of A’s team owner John Fisher and president Dave Kaval’s chaotic negotiations with multiple resort operators, while at the same time continuing to keep lines of communication open with Oakland elected officials who were trying to complete a multibillion-dollar deal for a waterfront stadium and entertainment development at Howard Terminal.

A’s fan groups have continued to express frustration with their team’s move from the Bay Area. Their voices have echoed on social media and the sports pages, but their arguments have done little to soften the resolve of the team’s ownership.

If it goes through, and questions remain unanswered with the legislature still in session, the A’s move will follow the migration of the Oakland Raiders in 2020 to Las Vegas.

Whether it turns out to pay off for taxpayers is unclear, but a 30,000-seat stadium in a Strip setting creates abundant entertainment opportunities that reach far beyond the baseball diamond.