Dreams persist that a proposed soccer stadium near downtown Las Vegas will eventually be home to a Major League Soccer club, but one city lawmaker is beyond skeptical: “We missed the mark and we’re not going to get an MLS team here.”
Councilwoman Michele Fiore objected Wednesday to the City Council’s latest move to extend negotiations for six months between the city and a developer on the major project at Cashman Field near downtown.
Those conversations have been extended twice since June 2019, before Wednesday’s most recent delay, and each time the window has opened and closed without a development agreement to construct a 25,000-seat soccer stadium.
The stadium is seen as a catalyst to winning a bid for an MLS expansion franchise, but the project also calls for residential and retail development in the area as part of its first phase.
Fiore, the lone council member to oppose re-upping negotiations, said she believed the city-owned real estate was too valuable to offer at a discount if a professional sports team was not attached to the plan. Bill Arent, the city’s development director, noted that officials had not yet contractually set a price, although costs have been discussed.
Not getting a team
“It’s kind of like a steal,” Fiore said. “And I could see, again, the city supporting something like that if we were to get an MLS team, which we are not, and I think that we need to be quite frank and quite honest about that.”
The city has sought to lure an MLS expansion club for years, and the league last year raised its number of teams from 24 to 30, but it has not announced plans to expand further.
Floyd Kephart, the chairman of the Renaissance Cos. Inc., which is negotiating the project with the city, said Wednesday that MLS has consistently asked what would be built at Cashman Field, when it would be done and when the league would have access to a specific site. The latest inquiry came within the last 90 days, he said.
“What this amendment does is allow us to do the planning of that, so that we’ll reserve a site for MLS and show what will be built around it, and how that will be beneficial to the city,” Kephart said of the newest extension.
Two city lawmakers said it is clear that the city needed to prove itself to MLS in order to be a contender, and that means developing its current United Soccer League club, the Las Vegas Lights FC, and youth soccer across the city.
‘On the cusp of sports greatness’
Mayor Carolyn Goodman said the Lights and youth soccer have exceeded expectations, while Councilman Cedric Crear suggested the city was “burgeoning on the cusp of sports greatness” with the professional teams already in the broader valley.
“I think we’re in a good position,” he said. “We just have to continue to develop it and get it right. And just because MLS doesn’t have openings today, doesn’t mean they’re not going to open it up.”
Under the plan announced in June 2019, the Lights would be sold to investor Baupost Group LLC and would become the MLS expansion team if the application to the league is approved.
In April, when negotiations were extended a second time, Goodman said it was not unexpected because of the coronavirus pandemic. On Wednesday, she suggested the crisis had affected MLS too: “The fact right now they’re not expanding, obviously it’s reflective of all the constraints by the pandemic.”
Golden Knights owner Bill Foley has also expressed interest in securing an MLS expansion franchise, at Allegiant Stadium or elsewhere in the valley.