Plans for new arena in Vegas

Times Staff Writer

LAS VEGAS -- Would AEG and Harrah’s Entertainment form a partnership for a privately financed $500-million arena project set to open here in 2010 without a commitment from the NBA or NHL?

Yes . . . and no.

Turns out, it depends on how you want to define commitment.

It’s significantly more complicated than the answers given by Harrah’s Chairman Gary Loveman and AEG Chairman Tim Leiweke at a news conference Wednesday to announce the alliance to build the 20,000-seat, state-of-the-art facility, which will be on about 10 acres of land one block east of the Strip, behind Harrah’s Bally’s and Paris resorts.

Groundbreaking is scheduled for 2008, and Loveman called the arena “part of our global-growth strategy and very much part of our master plan for Las Vegas.”


Leiweke stressed in a series of comments that there was no commitment from NBA Commissioner David Stern or his NHL counterpart Gary Bettman. But in a separate interview, he made it clear there was enough progress behind the scenes on the NHL front and with Bettman to make this deal fall into place now.

“We know we’re doing this without a commitment from him or anyone else there’s going to be a team here,” he told The Times. “That said, if we didn’t feel strongly there was the right kind of ownership group already out there -- and the right kind of dialogue going on between that ownership group and the league -- I think we probably would have waited.”

Considering the surroundings, Leiweke couldn’t resist the obvious line.

“It’s Vegas, we’re putting our chips down here and we’ll see what happens,” he said.

That ownership group would be the one led by Hollywood movie and television producer and Kings season-ticket holder Jerry Bruckheimer. It has been reported that Bruckheimer, who has openly spoken about wanting to own an NHL team, has had talks with the league. He declined to comment Wednesday.

The NHL, for its part, went ever so slightly beyond the expected cautionary comments in a statement about the latest developments in Las Vegas.

“Having a first-class, state-of-the-art arena facility is essential to any city’s ability to host a major-league sports franchise, so today’s announcement positively impacts the prospects of Las Vegas attracting a major-league franchise at some point,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly said.

“That said, there is nothing new to report on the NHL’s intentions regarding a franchise in Las Vegas -- or on league expansion generally. That is a matter our board of governors would have to consider at an appropriate time.”

There is a strong sense the NHL will expand by two teams, bringing the total to 32 in the next few years.

An attractive obvious benefit to NHL owners is that expansion revenues are not part of shared revenues with the players. AEG is also set to open the Sprint Center in Kansas City this fall -- another oft-mentioned future home for an NHL team.

There’s no shortage of potential homes for hockey or basketball franchises in Las Vegas. Recently, plans were announced for a $9.5-billion rival project, which would also include a 22,000-seat arena, aimed for a completion date in 2010.

Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver, who heads the NBA owners committee that is studying the Las Vegas application to bring a team there, is cautious about a second arena.

“If someone wants to build an arena, that’s great,” he said. “I haven’t had a chance to study how this proposal compares to what the city has in mind. One arena is great. Two arenas, I don’t know.”

Leiweke is unconcerned about any rival project.

Said Leiweke: “We have never announced a deal and not built it. We’ll save our bluffing for the tables downstairs. We build our projects.”

Times staff writer Mark Heisler contributed to this report.