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Stakes high for 51s in Vegas stadium fight

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New Las Vegas

At a time when the economy is still less than robust and public spending on big developments is way down, the fact that two privately financed sports-facilities projects -- each with a price tag of more than a billion dollars -- are being proposed in the same city is simply amazing. For the Las Vegas 51s (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League), the stakes are sky-high -- but the chances of the ballpark happening is now a long-shot.

Both developers would put a new football stadium in Las Vegas: one proposed complex would also include a new arena on 70 acres in downtown Vegas next to the freeway, while the other would reside on the UNLV campus and include a renovated Thomas & Mack Center.

For the Las Vegas 51s (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League), the stakes are fairly high, as only one proposal -- the downtown one from International Development Management and, to some unspecified extent, Cordish -- includes a new ballpark: a 9,000-seat facility that can be expanded to an MLB-level ballpark should a team move to Vegas. The design for the football stadium/arena/ballpark complex is pretty slick (it's the one shown above; the ballpark is in the foreground) but it's still highly speculative and could collapse if UNLV and the city don't show some interest. Indeed, the development is on hold: on Friday the UNLV Board of Regents voted to move ahead with an exclusive negotiating agreement with Majestic Realty on a campus-based plan that doesn't include a new ballpark.

It's no secret the 51s need a new home: Cashman Field is at the end of its functional life. Every MLB parent in recent years has been dissatisfied with the very basic facilities, and the creature comforts at the ballpark are fairly minimal as well. It's not a great place to watch a baseball game, and we've heard from several sources the team is quietly being shopped around yet again. Still, Vegas is potentially a great market, and there are several advantages to the Pacific Coast League being there -- it's a travel crossroads, and you can fly virtually anywhere to and from McCarren Airport -- so we don't see any rush to leave the market, even with Cashman the way it is.

We already know what plan the 51s owners and managements are rooting for. The new ballpark would be a win-win for the franchise: It would provide a home to the team and instantly raise the revenue profile of the team, and it could be alluring enough to attract an MLB team, who would need to buy out the 51s. We'll be closely watching how this sports-facilities battle plays out: it should be fascinating. But right now the 51s are looking at some long odds to get a new ballpark.

RELATED STORIES: IDM pitches new Vegas ballpark as part of larger development

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