When developers propose building a pro sports arena or stadium, they normally have a team lined up to play there.
But not in Las Vegas, where investors pitch speculative stadiums all too often.
Enter former UNLV basketball and NBA player Jackie Robinson, who wants to build a 22,000-seat arena with a retractable roof on the north Strip. His $1.4 billion project would feature a 44-story hotel, 16-screen movie theater and 300,000-square-foot retail plaza with nightclubs, a grocery store, ice rink and movie production studio — a massive undertaking for a first-time developer.
Robinson has been trying to lure an NBA team and, after blowing two previous groundbreaking timelines, says he plans to start construction in late October.
Clark County commissioners on Aug. 6 unanimously approved use permits, development waivers and design reviews, even though Robinson, a longtime businessman, hasn’t lined up a pro team or most of his financing.
Robinson said he has built properties as a general contractor and owned 67 Pizza Huts, as well as retail shops at McCarran International Airport.
“My background suits me well,” he said.
Investment banking firm SL Hare Capital has secured $300 million from investors for the project, Robinson said. He also wants to raise money through a program that grants visas to foreigners who put at least $500,000 into a new U.S. business.
Robinson bristled at the notion that his project is speculative, saying he plans to use sports management firm Comcast-Spectacor to run the arena and book events.
“That’s your anchor tenant,” he said.
Robinson said his development plans do not hinge on landing an NBA team.
“If we do, it’s icing on the cake,” he said.
But it’s almost impossible to finance an arena’s construction without a team lined up, as lenders have little assurance they’d be paid back, industry insiders say.
Still, Robinson isn’t the only one here to try.
Texas developer Chris Milam sought to build an arena and three stadiums near the M Resort without teams in place. The Henderson City Council unanimously approved his project, but city officials sued him for fraud last year. He never built a thing.
MGM Resorts International and AEG broke ground in May on a 20,000-seat arena west of the Strip without a team.
Las Vegas officials are working with developers to build a $200 million city-owned soccer stadium at Symphony Park, although no team has signed on yet.
If Robinson succeeds, he will bring jobs and entertainment to the north Strip. If he doesn’t, just wait a few months — another arena plan is bound to surface.