As Mesquite remakes itself into a youth-sports mecca, a new resort caters to traveling athletes and their families
Anyone who has raised children can name that piercing tune in two notes, mostly because it’s played on a seemingly endless loop from age 3 until they flee the nest, in almost any situation. Even, counterintuitively, if the situation in question is as kid-friendly as a trip to a youth sports tournament. Sure, the young athlete isn’t bored while the games are in progress. But what about all the hours before, between and afterward? What about the siblings who are forced to hang out on the sideline?
Well, what if we told you there’s now a cure for the traveling youth sports boredom blues — barely an hour’s drive from downtown Las Vegas?
Welcome to the new Rising Star Sports Ranch Resort in Mesquite.
Sure, Mesquite is still the home of the $99 room-and-spa package deal and remains the preferred landing spot for many retirees. But at its core, it’s a small family town — one that, since the start of this century, has invested heavily in vast open spaces and outdoor recreation amenities for residents and visitors alike. In addition to its numerous golf courses, there are no fewer than 15 parks listed on the City of Mesquite website, about half of which offer some kind of athletic field. It’s why the city in recent years has become a popular destination for youth sports tournaments and camps. Whether it’s for soccer, baseball, softball, lacrosse or flag football, coaches and organizers from Utah, Arizona, California and even Colorado are flocking to Mesquite to take advantage of its top-notch sports facilities.
“We see youth sports as the future in a lot of these communities,” Mesquite Mayor Allan Litman says. “You can’t live in a community of all senior citizens. You’ve got to supply (amenities) for our youth — both visiting youth and local youth — because that’s the future of a community.”
How often are those fields occupied? “Out of the 52 weekends,” says Nicholas Montoya, director of athletics and leisure services for the City of Mesquite, “I’m guessing we’re booking between 38 and 42 of them. The only weekends we’re not booking big events is in the summertime.” For some prime weekends, the city is scheduling fields two or three years ahead. And the demand is only going to grow, he says. “We need to find funds or bonds — something — to help us build some more facilities.”
While youth sports have brought a welcome infusion of economic life to Mesquite, there’s been one logistical hiccup: During large-scale youth sporting events, there’s often been a dearth of suitable (read: noncasino) accommodations for traveling teams and their families.
Enter the Lee family.
Ted and Doris Lee — for whom the UNLV business college is named — have had ties to Mesquite since 1997, when they, along with son Greg, opened the Rancho Mesquite Casino, soon after rebranded as Eureka Casino Hotel. (They also own the Eureka in Las Vegas.) A few years ago, when controversy arose over what would become of a long-vacant building that suddenly went on the market, Ted Lee stepped in.
The structure that was once home to the Mesquite Star — a casino that shuttered in 1999 after just six months — was about to be sold to a company that wanted to convert it into a truck stop and travel center. That rankled many who weren’t keen on a truck stop setting up shop in an area that had been built into something of a resort corridor.
So the Lee family swooped in and purchased the property, with the initial thought of turning it into ... well, they weren’t exactly sure.
“There was not a definitive short-term plan,” says Andre Carrier, president and COO of Eureka Casinos. “Now, there was a bit of excitement generated in the community about what it could be. And there was some hope that the site could be rejuvenated and be a source of energy and hope and new beginnings for the next phase of growth in Mesquite tourism.”
After acquiring the building in 2013, Greg Lee, Carrier and their executive team began kicking around ideas. Eventually, a light bulb clicked on: Hey, we have all of these athletic fields that are often rented by out-of-towners for tournaments and camps. Why not build a hotel that caters primarily to that demographic, as well as visiting golf groups?
Just like that, the seed was planted for the Rising Star Sports Ranch Resort.
“For the better part of five years, Mesquite had these very large soccer tournaments and very large baseball tournaments that left the city bursting at the seams to accommodate the folks who are in town for these events,” Carrier says. “At times, we’re not really built from a resort standpoint with the ideal set of amenities for those groups, because we had predominantly casino-resorts. And it turns out, there are a lot of laws that prohibit 12-year-olds from playing casino games.
“Consequently, we started to think, ‘Hmm. What if we were to build a resort centered around the unique needs of our core visitor group outside of gaming?’ And those are golfers and people coming for other sports events.”
If the initial idea represented outside-the-box thinking, the plan that subsequently unfolded blew that box to smithereens.
In addition to your standard double-queen and -king bedrooms, the 210-room, four-story hotel would feature rooms that could house from four to 12 kids, thanks to unique bunk-bed designs. And because these rooms would obviously be occupied by minors, there would be adjoining quarters for chaperones, coaches and parents.
The hotel’s interior would also include spaces for team meetings; a grand ballroom capable of hosting as many as 400 people; an arcade/game room complete with an air-hockey table and two-lane bowling alley; sports memorabilia and inspirational quotes around every turn; a sports-themed restaurant designed to swiftly feed large parties; and even rolling robots that could do everything from deliver room service to monitor hallways to ensure nobody was breaking team-mandated curfews.
Then, perhaps with I’m bo-o-o-o-ored! ringing in their ears, Carrier and his colleagues set about conceiving an exterior that would have as much spirit as the interior.
“I’m a tournament dad, and when we stay in some hotels, after the games are done, the kids all still want to be together, but there’s really nothing to do,” Carrier says. “So you end up gathering in the lobby, or if the weather is right, you end up with every kid trying to find a little bit of space in a swimming pool that’s far too small.
“So we said, ‘What should the rest of the space look like?’ That’s when we came up with The Backyard.”
But it’s not like your backyard: In addition to a swimming pool, it has basketball, volleyball and pickleball courts; a multilane horseshoe pit; a putting green; a dirt infield and four batting cages for baseball and softball practice; and a vast grass space for soccer, lacrosse and football. There’s also a large covered patio with wooden picnic tables and rocking chairs, with grills available for large cookouts.
With the vision established, renovations on the old Mesquite Star began in August 2015 and were completed last October, three months ahead of schedule.
“There’s no casino, there’s no smoking, there’s no bar,” says Mayor Litman. “It’s a totally different atmosphere, unlike anything we’ve ever had before. In fact, I can’t find anything around the country that resembles it.”
Come May, the final piece of Rising Star’s puzzle will fall into place: A 30,000-square-foot, multifaceted field house dubbed The Barn will host camps for field and court sports, all in a climate-controlled environment. As Montoya notes, that will help with summertime bookings.
“The Rising Star Sports Ranch Resort — the amenities we provide, the style of the room offerings — is absolutely a new vision for resort destinations,” Carrier says. “It says, ‘If you’re going to travel for a sports tournament, you do not have to give up your vacation.’”
Since opening in October, Carrier says, the Rising Star has hosted dozens of teams and organizations, as well as several golf groups, and he says the feedback so far has been overwhelmingly positive. “The proof,” he says, “is in the rebooking.”
In fact, no less a brand than Nike has agreed to host its popular Southern Nevada athletic camps at Rising Star, with lacrosse (June 17-19), softball (June 25-28) and baseball (July 30-August 2) camps already on the docket. Also, because it’s located within a 10-minute drive to Mesquite’s various athletic complexes — including an existing baseball and softball field right behind The Backyard — Rising Star is filling up for various traveling spring soccer and baseball tournaments.
The odd thing is, though, the majority of Rising Star’s bookings have come from neighboring states — not from Las Vegas. While Carrier isn’t about to complain, he’s genuinely hopeful that Las Vegas-based coaches and parents who might be quick to discount Mesquite as a destination will give it a chance.
“This was done in large part to serve the families of Las Vegas. It really does come from a divine place,” he says. “It is two-to-four hours closer than traveling to a tournament in Southern California or Arizona. And the facilities that you’ll find in Mesquite from a field and diamond and now court standpoint are better than you’ll find in almost all of those places.
“We also want to use our facilities to bring the best training for the kids of Southern Nevada, so whatever elite training facilities there are nationally and internationally, myself and my colleagues are working day and night to find them and bring them here.”
Regardless of where Rising Star’s guests come from, Carrier says the main goal is simple: Create an environment that offers a variety of shared experiences.
For families, that means quality fun time together, which isn’t often a priority when venturing to out-of-town youth sports events. And for youngsters traveling without parents, that means providing an ecosystem that fosters the development of important social and life skills.
“Look, I was a player, and now as a father and a coach, I like to see the kids off the field meeting the kids they’re playing against who come from other places,” Carrier says. “I want to see them network in a fun way and maybe make some friendships, instead of ‘You go back to your hotel, I go back to my hotel and never the twain shall meet.’
“The Ranch is about giving you this environment to visit with the kids you were just playing (against) and, who knows, maybe trade a jersey or T-shirt with them and talk stories. I think that’s as important a part of youth sports as is working on technical effort — it’s as much about learning to be your best person as it is your best player or competitor. So we’ve tried to create an environment that’s of service to both.”