The Incidental Tourist

[The Incidental Tourist]

Trading Out the Tropicana: Las Vegas’ continued pro sports expansion carries an additional cost

A rendering of the Oakland A’s proposed Las Vegas stadium
AP Photo

It’s almost impossible not to be excited about professional sports in Las Vegas right now.

For many longtime locals, seeing the Vegas Golden Knights parade down the Strip and celebrate their Stanley Cup victory felt like more than a championship victory. Long-suffering fans in other major cities have had to wait for decades to experience such a thrill, but being a sports fan without a hometown team to cheer for is a different kind of hardship. Some of us old-timers flashed back to the UNLV basketball national championship of 1990, perhaps inspired by VGK goalie Adin Hill wearing Larry Johnson’s No. 4 Runnin’ Rebs jersey onstage during the victory rally. We would never have been able to imagine the scene we witnessed on June 17.

And the events that transpired in the surrounding days are just as unbelievable, yet they make perfect sense for the Vegas of today. On June 15, less than 48 hours after the Knights claimed the Cup at T-Mobile Arena, Gov. Joe Lombardo signed into law a $380 million public financing package for the Oakland Athletics’ proposed $1.5 billion, 30,000-seat stadium, on the current site of the Tropicana hotel and casino. Construction could begin next year. Once the A’s receive approval from the league, the team plans to follow in the Raiders’ footsteps and move to Las Vegas, bringing Major League Baseball to Southern Nevada in 2028.

The Tropicana

That leaves only the NBA as a Vegas holdout. On the same Thursday, at the 43rd annual Las Vegas Perspective presented by the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance at the M Resort, Oak View Group CEO Tim Leiweke updated the community on his company’s project, which has gotten a bit bigger. The developer that recently opened Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle (home of the NHL’s Kraken) is in the process of acquiring additional land south of the Strip at Las Vegas Boulevard and Blue Diamond Road and is now planning a 66-acre, $10 billion project including a 20,000-seat arena intended to lure an NBA expansion team in 2026, along with a new casino resort at the heart of a gaming and entertainment district.

Take a moment and catch your breath.

Sure, there are many bridges to cross for baseball and basketball to join the party, but you don’t have to think back very far to remember how quickly the NHL, WNBA and NFL went from a wouldn’t that be cool idea to selling tickets and packing arenas … and winning championships. Major league pro sports are batting a thousand so far in Las Vegas, a massive success even before the Aces took the title last year and the Knights claimed the Cup this month. The Raiders have been a hot ticket since the dynamic Allegiant Stadium was permitted to put fans in its seats.

With legislative support behind the A’s stadium proposal—and this is a good place to note that Oak View is not seeking public funding for its project—what could possibly stop the Vegas pro sports train from rolling right along? Apparently nothing. Should we even consider what we might be losing by adding all these teams, games and venues? Absolutely, always.

The Knights, Aces and Raiders have without question added new dimension to the general Las Vegas experience. They attract tourists and locals to the Strip corridor. They perform in big arenas or stadiums that offer additional value to the community. And they’ve all impacted the culture of Las Vegas in their own significant ways.

The A’s will be a different situation. We’ve never demolished a casino in order to build a stadium; traditionally an implosion is followed by a new hotel tower rising in its place. T-Mobile Arena was sandwiched between two casinos; Allegiant Stadium was built across the Interstate so it could be just close enough. Though the demise of the Trop has been a long time coming, this development is an all-too-literal manifestation of sports taking over the Strip, forever changing what Vegas looks and feels like.

The Tropicana opened 66 years ago, in April 1957. Incredibly, the hotel executive who bought the land and began construction on the Trop came from the Fontainebleau Miami Beach, another historic hotel operation finally planning to open its Las Vegas Strip resort this December. The Trop is pure Vegas history, all island themes and mob skims, showgirls and film appearances (Diamonds Are Forever, The Godfather and more). Once it’s gone, the only early-era resorts remaining on the Strip will be the Sahara, Circus Circus and the Flamingo, and once the A’s stadium arrives, the area around Tropicana Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard will be a year-round cluster of sports venues unlike anywhere else in the world.

There’s nothing wrong with being excited about this future. It took a really long time to get to this point, much longer than the fast, fun and frenetic six years needed to win that Cup. But this point, right now, seems like a good time to drop a pin and remember what Vegas feels like, and what it used to feel like, because more change is certainly and always coming.

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Tags: Sports, Tropicana
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Brock Radke

Brock Radke is an award-winning writer and columnist who currently occupies the role of editor-at-large at Las Vegas Weekly magazine. ...

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