Las Vegas is now a football city. The National Football League owners voted 31-1 to approve the Raiders’ relocation to the Valley, with a $750 million commitment from its future home. The near unanimous vote sent a loud message: The NFL believes Las Vegas is ready to handle professional sports.
“It has been a long time coming. We knew we were ready. We’ve known that for several years,” Mayor Carolyn G. Goodman says. “The city has grown up. We are a destination of great entertainment.” But the Raiders and the city aren’t ready for each other yet. The work for the Las Vegas Stadium Authority—the public body that owns the stadium—is just beginning. “I’ll be pretty excited once they get here and play. It was a great day for Vegas. There’s no question about that,” says Steve Hill, Stadium Authority chairman. “But we’ve still got three years of work to do here.”
The team will have to sign four different agreements—lease, development and non-relocation, as well as a separate lease with UNLV. While Hill doesn’t expect that to all be done in the next month, they should all be finalized around the same time. What could be settled in April, though, is the location of the stadium. Hill expects the Raiders to ask the Stadium Authority to approve a site just west of Mandalay Bay known as Russell 62 for its proximity to Russell Road and its available acreage.
“I’d be surprised if the Stadium Authority objected to that site. But it will need to be discussed at one of the upcoming meetings,” Hill says. They are scheduled to meet once a month through the end of 2017, with the next meeting on April 20. But even with the signed documents and a site selected, the town is a long way from seeing the new stadium. The current timeline has ground breaking in February 2018 with an opening in fall 2020.
The Raiders are expected to remain in Oakland for the next two seasons, but they could leave earlier. The two most likely options for a temporary home are Levi’s Stadium, home of the San Francisco 49ers, and Sam Boyd Stadium, where UNLV football plays. But Sam Boyd isn’t ready to handle an NFL team for an entire season. The stadium’s capacity of 35,000 would need to be increased, while the locker rooms would also need an upgrade. Hill estimated that improving Sam Boyd would cost in the tens of millions, and that it’s up to the Raiders to decide if they want to pay.
One of the biggest unanswered questions is how the necessary improvements to the infrastructure around the stadium will be funded. “What’s not been considered is additional off-site investment. Somebody has to pay for it, and to me it’s going to be us, the residents of Las Vegas,” Goodman says. “The room tax is in place [to provide the $750 million for the stadium], but we haven’t talked about the flyover or widening I-15, which is going to take many years because it is a federal highway and has to go through environmental studies.”
In October 2016, the Nevada Department of Transportation recommended speeding up nearly $900 million worth of improvements to the area surrounding Russell 62. While NDOT said the improvements were already planned and therefore not a new expense, the plans are not funded and were previously scheduled to be completed by 2035.
Las Vegas residents don’t have to wait or worry about who is paying for the first professional franchise in Vegas, as the Golden Knights will bring the NHL to the desert this fall. The trend isn’t lost on the mayor. “I thank Bill Foley for having the foresight to move on the hockey franchise,” Goodman says. “I think in the future we’ll get the NBA. We’ll probably someday get Major League Baseball. And we definitely want soccer.”