New arena project emerges in bid to attract NBA to Las Vegas; developer, ex-Sphere exec involved

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — A multi-billion-dollar development on the Las Vegas Strip includes plans for a “technologically advanced entertainment and sports arena” and several ultra-luxury hotels and residences.

It’s a play to attract an NBA team to Las Vegas, and it’s not the only one. For the past year and a half, the buzz has been building around the NBA coming since LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neal each said they want a piece of a Las Vegas team. A $10 billion project to build a 20,000-seat arena in the south valley made headlines in June of 2023.

The newest project was announced Monday morning by real estate developer LVXP for the 27-acre site known by longtime Las Vegans as the original home of Wet’n’Wild — between the Fontainebleau Las Vegas and SAHARA Las Vegas. The project is described in a news release as “transformational” and would advance the development of the north end of the Strip. Plans call for features including a retail plaza, a state-of-the-art convention space and a “destination” casino.

“We are honored to be stewards of this significant milestone in the city’s legacy,” James R. Frasure Jr., CEO of LVXP, said. His background includes years with homebuilder D.R. Horton and complex projects including nuclear waste storage and offshore wind farms. “Our commitment is to create a destination that captures the essence of Las Vegas and provides lasting benefits for the community. For me, this endeavor is more than a project – it’s a promise to uphold the spirit of innovation and enthusiasm that defines our local culture.”

A 2,500-room ultraluxury resort with an arena seating 18,500 to 20,000 people will anchor the development, according to a spokesman for LVXP reached on Monday evening.

LVXP has not released renderings and few details are available on the specifics of the plan. A name for the project wasn’t immediately available.

Could it really happen?

Promises for development at the site have fallen through before, with Jackie Robinson’s All NET Arena project failing to meet development deadlines and losing control of the property in November.

A rendering of the All NET Arena, a project that failed to secure investors and was abandoned in late 2023. (Courtesy: All Net Resort and Arena)
A rendering of the All NET Arena, a project that failed to secure investors and was abandoned in late 2023. (Courtesy: All Net Resort and Arena)

But LVXP brings its own experience to the table, and Clark County Commission Chairman Tick Segerblom said the project has potential. “This is a well-conceived project that has the potential to transform a valuable undeveloped land parcel into a highly productive destination that contributes meaningful long-term value to the community and visitors alike,” he said.

Frasure leads a group that includes Nick Tomasino, who was in charge of construction of Sphere, and Paul Steelman, who will design the project’s architectural plans. The company cites expertise in real estate, finance, marketing, technology, sports and entertainment.

“My experience leading the construction of some of the most iconic developments on the Strip has provided me with the insight and expertise necessary to bring this project to fruition,” Tomasino said. He most recently served as senior vice president of construction at Madison Square Garden Entertainment where he managed the construction of Sphere.

The MSG Sphere site in August 2020. (MSG Entertainment)
The MSG Sphere site in August 2020. (MSG Entertainment)

“I am thrilled for the opportunity to yet again build a destination that will transform Las Vegas Boulevard and leave a long-lasting positive impact for future generations,” Tomasino said.

“Our leadership team and investors have been studying this project for years, and are very familiar with the land’s history, the Las Vegas real estate market, and other arena proposals,” he said. “We recognize the vast potential of the site and the lasting positive impact it can have on the community if it is responsibly developed to its highest and best use. Based on our research, we have full confidence of delivering a project that will resonate with local residents, visitors and a range of businesses.”

Steelman, CEO of Steelman Partners, said the project’s architecture would pay homage to the city’s legacy.

“Collaborating with the LVXP team energizes my creative spirit, as together, we strive to craft a landmark that not only redefines the city’s skyline but also pays homage to its architectural legacy. With every detail, we aim to transcend boundaries and immerse guests in a tailored reality, setting a new standard for hospitality and entertainment in Las Vegas,” he said.

Attracting a team

Activity around bringing the NBA to Las Vegas has been simmering since LeBron James said he wanted to bring a team here after playing in a preseason game at T-Mobile Arena in October 2022. “It’s the best fan base in the world and I would love to bring a team here… I want a team here Adam (Silver, NBA commissioner), thank you.”

Shaquille O’Neal told CBS Sportsline a year later that he wanted to bring his own group into the deal. He said in an interview, “With LeBron, without LeBron, I just want to be involved.”

That statement came after former Bellagio executive Randy Morton and former Las Vegas Raiders President Marc Badain were brought in to lead divisions for the Oak View Group for the project in the south valley. Tim Leiweke, the chairman and CEO Oak View Group, said they would follow the same strategy behind Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle — building an arena to attract a franchise, either through expansion or relocation. That succeeded in getting the NHL’s Seattle Kraken when the league expanded.

Leiweke has said he doesn’t intend to ask for money to build the arena.

For years, Jackie Robinson’s project on the north Strip appeared close to securing the financing needed to start building. Robinson is a former UNLV basketball player. But by November 2023, the Clark County Commission was out of patience.

Before Fontainebleau even opened its doors for business, executives were in front of the county asking them to pull the plug on All NET Arena, saying the site had become an eyesore and a breeding ground for mosquitoes after a heavy rain.

Stigma of gambling

For years before the Vegas Golden Knights (2017-18 season) and the Las Vegas Aces (2018 season) made their homes here, the effort to bring a major pro sports team to the valley regularly circulated when NBA preseason games were played on UNLV’s home court at the Thomas & Mack Arena.

But gambling was seen as a major barrier to getting a team in Las Vegas. Barroom debates raged over which league would finally break down and put a team in Las Vegas.

Now, sports betting is common across the U.S. and the stigma that was once very real has faded. Even recent suspensions of NFL and NBA players for gambling activities fail to create an image problem for the leagues. Pro sports teams have “official partners” for betting apps — including the Raiders association with BetMGM.

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