You've always wanted a ferris wheel in Vegas, right? Well, Jeff's gonna be sitting right next to you on that first go-round. How about a stadium? He's got that covered too.
He's back with SIMPSON ON VEGAS #16. Enjoy.
I'm going to tackle two subjects in this column and first up are the recent news stories about plans to build observation wheels as the centerpiece of new entertainment zones on the Strip. Caesars Entertainment announced its plans to borrow $400 million to finish its mothballed (except for some pool villas) Octavius Tower at Caesars Palace and to build its long-delayed entertainment zone in and around the space now occupied by O'Sheas and the alley that separates its casino from the Flamingo. And a separate group received Clark County approval for plans to build an observation wheel-anchored amusement park on a Strip-front site opposite Mandalay Bay.
Clearly Las Vegas doesn't need two giant observation wheels, but one would be a nice addition to the city's attractions. I've written before about the need for dramatic, free attractions (like the Bellagio fountains) to spur additional visitation, but no one is likely to build one soon. An observation wheel (with a reasonable $15 to $30 price) would afford a good look at the incredible energy on the Strip, closer than the views available from the observation deck on the Stratosphere, and I think it would be a very popular attraction.
The Caesars plan calls for a lot of retail, dining and entertainment outlets along with its wheel; the South Strip plan calls for additional amusement rides as well as retail offerings.
Will either developer actually build their wheels? The owners of the southern site have previously announced plans for their site that didn't come to fruition -- but then again, so has Caesars. (Where's its arena? Or the wheel that was supposed to go behind the Rio?) Other developers have announced then abandoned wheel plans next to Planet Hollywood and on the old Wet 'n Wild site.
I think the Caesars plan is the most likely to come to fruition, but clearly it is no sure thing. I'd bet against the South Strip developers' plan, especially if Caesars is able to sell the debt to build its wheel. It would be good for Las Vegas and good for Caesars Entertainment if the company can finally deliver an observation wheel to the Strip.
Observation wheels aren't the only big structures that have been promised for Las Vegas but yet to be delivered. A new arena is something that Las Vegas needs much more than a wheel -- to keep big events like the National Finals Rodeo and major boxing and MMA matches, to lure an NBA or NHL team and to give UNLV's Running Rebels a modern place to play. Plans have been announced for arenas before, and there are again several new plans. A big arena and retail center to be built by Silverton owner and Staples Center developer Ed Roski at the western edge of UNLV's campus is one plan (supported by the school) while another developer wants to build a $1.6 billion, three-facility complex with an arena, a football stadium and a baseball ballpark at the western edge of downtown Las Vegas.
Caesars Entertainment hasn't abandoned -- just delayed -- its own plan to build an arena behind its casinos on the east side of the Strip, while three other apparently dormant arena plans have been proposed near the current Las Vegas City Hall, just south of the Sahara and at the far southern end of Las Vegas Boulevard, south of the South Point. There are a couple of points I'd like to make about the arena issue:
• MGM Resorts International has arenas at MGM Grand and Mandalay Bay -- the best facilities now on the Strip -- and will tenaciously fight a publicly funded arena -- especially if it is close to the Strip and even more if it will be part-owned by Caesars Entertainment.
• The market needs a new arena to keep NFR and to host other big events, so sensible operators would support private arena development plans -- unless they compete with their own arena plans (Caesars).
• The stadium, ballpark and arena plan proposed for downtown is not going to happen. Sometimes plans are just plain ridiculous and yet they get treated like they are serious proposals. That's the case with this idea.
• I'm not convinced any of the arenas are plausible until the economy improves significantly, particularly in terms of the availability of credit. I'd be surprised if Nevada voters would approve a sales tax hike or tax-increment financing -- if it gets to a vote -- for the Caesars arena plan (the current state budget mess and MGM's certain opposition will be a strong one-two opposing punch).
• If an arena is built and the best Las Vegas can get is an NHL team, I hope the owner has very deep pockets. The city would support an NFL team, but that's just not going to happen. An NBA team is the best of the likely possibilities, while a hockey team is the worst. I don't think the city will support a hockey team for long. I'd love a major league baseball team, but summers in Las Vegas would mandate an indoor stadium. I think losing our Triple A minor league team is more likely than landing a MLB team. As for a soccer team, MLS would be a decent addition, but it is major league in name only.
-- Jeff Simpson, March 2011