High Rolling Sports Complex

A Texas-based developer has plunked down $20 million to buy a minor-league baseball team he hopes will one day anchor a 9,000-seat stadium, part of a three-venue complex Chris Milam hopes to build in Sin City.

The acquisition of the Las Vegas 51s, a Triple-A franchise playing in the Pacific Coast League, is the first step in Milam’s plan to build a $1.95 billion complex he calls the Las Vegas National Sports Center.

In addition to a baseball stadium, the proposal includes a 17,500-seat arena for basketball, concerts and other events, and a 36,000-seat soccer-specific stadium on 63 acres of land across Interstate 15 from Mandalay Bay resort and casino and near McCarran International Airport.

“It’s the beginning of the greatest thing ever to happen for sports in this community,” 51s executive director and deal broker Don Logan told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “He wouldn’t buy the team if he didn’t think a stadium deal was going to happen. To make sense from a business standpoint, he has to have a new facility.”

A spokeswoman for Milam’s company, International Development Management, told the paper IDM expects to break ground on the facility by the end of the year once one little hitch is cleared up: Finalizing the land purchase.

“We’re currently negotiating the contract for the land purchase,” spokeswoman Lee Haney told the paper. “It’s coming along well, and we hope to have the land completely under contract within the next 30 days.”

If that sounds like counting unhatched chickens, Haney also told the Review-Journal that Milam and IDM are confident of landing an NBA franchise despite the basketball league’s prior queasiness over putting a team in the gambling mecca. There’s no shortage of other cities also in the hunt for pro basketball and/or hockey anchor tenants, and the hunt has been especially frustrating for cities like Kansas City, Mo.

Acquiring the 51s – the deal is contingent on approval from the PCL – would be a play on the old “if you build it, they will come” cliché, turning it into “if you buy them, you can build.”

And even if the complex is built, it won’t force any changes to plans by the Las Vegas Arena Foundation that is trying to build a $500 million arena and a special events center downtown.

“We have a good plan, a great location, financing that is in place, and we’re ready to move forward through a public-private partnership,” former Clark County Commissioner Bruce Woodbury, the Foundation’s chairman, told the Review-Journal. “There seem to be multiple arena proposals out there, but our biggest question on all these other projects is where is the financing coming from?”

Haney told the Review-Journal she is currently meeting with Nevada legislators in an effort to stump up support for a financing plan that could involve creation of a special taxing district or the earmarking of taxes generated at the site to be kept by the developers.

Milam’s development dream is an old one in Las Vegas. In addition to the Las Vegas Arena Foundation’s venue proposal, Anschutz Entertainment Group has made noise about building an arena off the Strip that has yet to materialize. REI Neon would have included a downtown 22,000-seat arena, retail, hotel and residential components but for “a gap in the financing,” according to the paper.

And another project in the talking stage is a proposal by AEG rival Ed Roski and Silverton President Craig Cavileer for a 40,000-seat stadium and related development at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Developers and UNLV have yet to release specifics of the proposal beyond an artist depiction.