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T-Mobile Arena ushers in the next phase for the Las Vegas Strip

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Photo: Jon Estrada
David McKee

Exuding a coppery gleam in the Las Vegas sunlight, the new T-Mobile Arena is surely the best-looking facility of its kind in Sin City. But what kind of substantive change should we expect it to bring to the world-famous Strip?

Casino developments have slowed. The Boulevard hasn’t seen a new, ground-up resort arrival in more than five years, and the arena’s opening has generated a buzz arguably not felt since the debut of Steve Wynn’s Encore in late 2008—just before the bottom fell out of our casino-based economy. Viewed in conjunction with its companion attraction, the Park, the arena makes it clear that MGM Resorts CEO James Murren has not given up on his quest to bring New Urbanism to the Strip (see CityCenter, 2009). T-Mobile will give Murren more control over the supply-demand equation, mainly to stage events that can be seen only at the arena.

According to Brian Gordon of Applied Analysis, which crunched the economic-impact numbers for MGM, the $375 million, 20,000-seat arena will send a $600 million infusion into the local construction industry, with 3,500 person-years invested into the project, plus purchases by suppliers and spending by MGM itself. Once the arena is operational, MGM expects $900 million in annual economic impact, largely from incremental increases in tourism, “visitation that would not have come to Vegas otherwise,” Gordon says, and additional spending by visitors once they get here.

T-Mobile Arena holds some intrigue for Las Vegans as well. Once it’s up and running, it’s projected to employ 650 Las Vegans, a number that swells to 1,000 when suppliers and arena franchisees are factored into the mix.

T-Mobile is designed and suitable for major-league sporting events in hockey and basketball. The NBA isn’t presently pondering expansion, but Commissioner Adam Silver has called for reconsideration of legalized sports betting—a Vegas-friendly move.

The NHL is weighing a Vegas expansion team, however, and MGM is letting local entrepreneur Bill Foley handle that puck. “Foley has proven himself a master of playing the admission game,” writes Sports Illustrated’s Allan Muir. “He’s avoided the mistakes of previous would-be owners … who repeatedly attempted to barge through the front door rather than waiting for someone to open it for him.”

Will the city finally get a major-league sports team thanks to T-Mobile’s arrival? UNLV history professor Eugene Moehring will believe it when he sees it.

“The MGM Grand Garden Arena has 16,800 seats and the [Thomas & Mack Center] 17,000 seats for concerts,” he says. “The T-Mobile Arena has less than 4,000 more, but not great access or parking. Most pro basketball and hockey franchises would no doubt prefer to stay where they are and avoid all the criticism attached to playing in Las Vegas,” he says.

Moehring says he does think the arena ratchets up the pressure for an NFL-size stadium, though, a pet cause of Murren’s casino mogul rival Sheldon Adelson. “It is quite possible that Vegas could get the Raiders—if the NFL agrees—a maverick franchise in a Rebel town,” he says.

Whether locals’ dreams for a team come true, T-Mobile Arena is here and ready to leave an impact. Let the gamesmanship begin.­­

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