Sale Of 51s Paves Way For New Vegas Ballpark

New Owner Proposes $1.95 Billion Project

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After years of failing to land the needed support and financing to build a new ballpark, the Las Vegas 51s appear on the verge of doing something much grander. The bright lights of Vegas may soon host the biggest, most expensive ballpark project in minor league history.

Stevens Baseball Group, owners of the 51s since 2008, reached an agreement to sell the Pacific Coast League franchise to Texas businessman Chris Milam, owner of Silver State Baseball LLC. Though no price was released, 51s executive director Don Logan confirmed a published report that the sale figure was more than $20 million.

Milam has spent a couple of years courting professional sports leagues in hopes of bringing major league teams to Vegas and building a facility that would be the home of several teams. His purchase of the 51s may be the piece of the puzzle that gets the proposed $1.95 billion complex built.

And no, "billion" is not a misprint. That is the price tag for the proposed Las Vegas National Sports Center, which would include a 9,000-seat ballpark for the 51s, a 17,500-seat arena designed for an NBA team and a 36,000-seat stadium for a Major League Soccer team. The complex would sit on 63 acres off the Vegas Strip, behind the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.

"This is a game-changer," said Logan, who has attempted to broker many a deal for a new ballpark in his 28 years with the team and has been the point person in the negotiations with Milam. "What we have in Las Vegas is an upscale market that knows how to entertain better than anywhere in the country. To have the type of facility that allows us to do that is going to change the way the team operates. It is going to be phenomenal.

"This is the beginning of the greatest thing that has ever happened for sports in southern Nevada."

Attempts to reach Milam were unsuccessful and a telephone call to his spokesman, Lee Haney, was not returned.

The project will be privately financed, with the developers petitioning local officials to create a special taxing district for the site. While residents outside of the project site would see no tax increases, any taxes charged in the stadium site for a to-be-determined number of years would be returned to the developers, Haney told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

The payoff for the city would include the creation of roughly 10,000 construction jobs and 4,000 permanent positions, Haney said.

Ballpark proposals in the past have had a "singular focus of where can I build a baseball stadium, but this plan is different," Pacific Coast League president Branch Rickey III said. "It would have significant ramifications in terms of job development in the marketplace, both short term and long term. That's one way this plan really is on an altogether different level."

Milam plans to have the project under construction by the end of the year and is finalizing a
purchase of the property, Haney told the Review-Journal.

"We couldn't be more excited about reaching an agreement to acquire the Las Vegas 51s," Milam said in a statement released by the team. "Acquiring this franchise is an important step in the creation of the Las Vegas National Sports Center, which will be the new home of the 51s as well as allow for the expansion of professional sports into the Las Vegas market."

51s Lead The Way

That a minor league team could play such a key role in such a large project is a credit to the growth of minor league baseball and the local influence of the 51s, Rickey said.

"It's interesting, in this case, that what we see is the 51s franchise as being the primary catalyst to this multi-franchise project and the multi-stadium facility," Rickey said. "It all starts with the 51s, so that is a reflection of the credibility the 51s have in Las Vegas and the way it is integral to the Las Vegas sports program."

The 51s have had a difficult time drawing residents and tourists alike to aging Cashman Field in recent years. The ballpark was built in 1983, and lacks the amenities both fans and players have come to enjoy at the many new ballparks across the minor leagues.

"Cashman Field is kind of like the old hotels here," Logan said "They've evolved and been replaced by the new ones. We need a new stadium in the worst way."