Nevada Newsmakers

News - November 3, 2022 - by Ray Hagar

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When Don Ahern sits in his Ahern Hotel on Sahara Avenue on the north end of the Las Vegas Strip and looks across the street, he sees property owned by Phil Ruffin -- the Circus Circus resort and the Las Vegas Festival Grounds.

Ahern, also owner of Ahern Equipment Rentals, said on Nevada Newsmakers Wednesday he considers Ruffin's property near his hotel as the ideal place to build a Major League Baseball stadium, if the Oakland A's decide to move to Las Vegas.

"I think it would be great here," Ahern told host Sam Shad.

Ahern said he recently spoke to members of the A's ownership, who wanted Ahern's thoughts about building the ballpark near his hotel.

"About a month ago, or six weeks ago now, there was a lot of conversation about it (baseball stadium) and we received a phone call from the owners of the A's and they wanted to try to get to know us over the phone," said Ahern.

"They said, 'We're just doing our due diligence. We just wanted to know who the neighbors are and how do you feel about it (prospects of a new ballpark in the area)?

"And we said, 'Sounds great to us. Welcome to the neighborhood,'" said Ahern, who is also the finance chairman of the Nevada Republican Party.

Ahern said Ruffin has made trips to Oakland to negotiate a possible land deal. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported in August that Ruffin was set to go to Oakland and that the Circus Circus/Festival Grounds site would be discussed.

"I actually have a little bit of knowledge on that particular aspect and there is no doubt he (Ruffin) has gone up there to talk to them on one or multiple occasions as well," Ahern said.

Ruffin has undergone a change of heart about selling land to the A's, Ahern said.

"But understand -- it is just hearsay on my part, I don't want anybody to take me for the absolute answer on this -- but he (Ruffin) has kind of changed his heart, in terms of he didn't want to sell, originally. It was kind of holding back the A's but now he has decided to go ahead and maybe sell -- a portion -- but not all of it -- a portion of the property."

In August, the Review-Journal reported that A’s President Dave Kaval acknowledged the team’s interest in the Festival Grounds early in the search process in Las Vegas. But focus shifted away from that location as the team’s market research progressed, the R-J reported.

The Festival grounds is almost 40 acres, according to various reports. Circus Circus, which Ruffin bought in 2019 from MGM Resorts for $825 million, sits on about 100 acres.

If the A's move to Las Vegas, the American League team reportedly wants to build a $1-billion stadium. It probably would have a domed or retractable roof, and the A's are reportedly seeking some public financing for its construction.

The financing of the NFL Las Vegas Raiders' Allegiant Stadium included $750 million in Clark County room tax money but a 2016 special session of the Nevada Legislature was needed to approve it.

"Again, I don't want to make enemies by saying things I don't know how to say, but I heard he (Ruffin) was expecting to set (aside) about 22 acres for this project, could be more, could be 30, 39, I don't know," Ahern said. "I had heard it would take 22 acres to get the A's satisfied for all of the space they need."

The A's are looking for about 40 to 60 acres for sites they would own outright, which would allow for mixed-use developments to go along with the ballpark, according to the Review-Journal. The A's are also looking at smaller sites that would tie into a resort, the Review-Journal reported.

The Circus Circus/Festival Grounds site is probably better than another site reportedly being considered -- that of the Tropicana resort of the south end of The Strip, Ahern said. The Tropicana resort sits on a 35-acre parcel, according to reports.

"Seems like to me the Tropicana is a smaller property. It might be big enough," Ahern said. "Apparently, it must be. It was the top option going there for a long time. I think we all kind of heard, kinda felt, like that is where it was going until this kinda changed his (thoughts) here, about six weeks ago or so.

"So I don't know," Ahern continued. "Again, it (Tropicana) would have to be torn down. This (Festival Grounds) is wide open. I just see this as a much better option."

If the A's built at the Circus Circus/Festival Grounds area, infrastructure improvements could help others in the area, Ahern said.

"You know, there are some big power lines that I would hope they would put underground and so it could also be an advantage for us here at the hotel because we don't enjoy those amazingly large power lines out front," Ahern said. "So some infrastructure would have to change around a little bit."

The A's ballpark is not the only proposed stadium being discussed in Las Vegas.

Two billionaire business partners, Wes Edens and Naseef Sawiris, hope to bring a Major League Soccer (MLS) franchise to Las Vegas and possibly build a 25,000 to 30,000-seat stadium at the intersection of Warms Springs Road and Las Vegas Blvd.

Ahern encourages the multiple-stadium construction. Las Vegas is becoming a pro sports mecca with the NFL's Raiders, the NHL's Golden Knights and the WNBA champion Aces.

Also, Formula One Racing's Las Vegas Grand Prix is set for Nov. 16-18 of 2023 and the race has already sent room rates soaring for that week.

The nation's largest sporting event, the NFL's Super Bowl, will be held in Las Vegas in February of 2024.

The National Basketball Association is also considering Las Vegas for a franchise. After a recent exhibition game in Las Vegas' T-Mobile Arena, NBA superstar LeBron James said, "I want a team here, Adam," addressing NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.

"What is clear to me is that these younger generations, younger than me, are really involved in sports," Ahern said. "It's a sports world. I don't think there is any end to it. I think they can put as many stadiums as they want in this town and just keep on coming with it all.

"People from all over the world like to come to Las Vegas," said Ahern, a lifelong resident. "It is an amazing city. You know, when I was born here, there were 10,000 or 15,000 people and now there's millions."

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