The valley’s longest-tenured pro sports team is finally getting a new home. What will it mean for the 51s and the community? We ask the team’s boss, Don Logan.
Born in 1982 as the Las Vegas Stars and rebranded at the turn of the century, the Las Vegas 51s are the longest-tenured professional sports franchise in Nevada history — and by a long shot. So it’s worth noting (and celebrating) that come April 5, our Triple A baseball franchise will raise the curtain on its 36th season of Pacific Coast League baseball when it hosts the El Paso Chihuahuas. But it’s worth noting not because the Chihuahuas were the PCL’s runner-up in 2017, or because it’s the first Dollar Beer Night of the season, or even because it marks the start of the 51s’ final season as the New York Mets’ Triple A affiliate.
Rather, it’s significant for this reason: If all goes according to plan, it will be the last opening day at Cashman Field, the Downtown ballpark that has served as the home team’s home base since its inception.
Lost amid the local sports euphoria generated by the amazing inaugural season of the NHL’s Golden Knights, and the impending arrival of the NFL’s Raiders, the WNBA’s Aces, and the United Soccer League’s Lights, is the fact our baseball team is finally getting fancy new digs. After years of fits and starts, the 51s announced late last year that they’re relocating to a state-of-the-art, 10,000-seat stadium in Summerlin.
Las Vegas Ballpark — dubbed as such after the team reached a 20-year, $80 million naming rights deal with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority — will feature all of the amenities fans have come to expect from a 21st century stadium, and then some. There will be upgraded food and beverage options, wide concourses, adequate restroom facilities, more shade, fancy luxury suites, a party deck, an adult zone with beer pong and cornhole games, a kids zone with splash pads, and, just beyond the wall in right-center field, a little Vegas flair: a swimming pool.
While half of the $150 million ballpark — designed by noted ballpark architecture firm HOK — will be financed by the LVCVA deal, the rest of the tab belongs to The Howard Hughes Corp., which is entering its fourth season as the 51s’ primary owner (and second as its sole owner). Built on Hughes-owned land just east of Downtown Summerlin and west of the Golden Knights’ practice facility, the stadium broke ground late last month and is expected to be open for business in time for the start of the 2019 season.
We recently visited the Cashman Field offices to chat with 51s President Don Logan, who began his career with the team in 1984 as an account executive, and who for years led the charge for a new stadium. In addition to excitedly sharing blueprints and renderings, Logan talked about why the 51s need Las Vegas Ballpark, why it took so long to come to fruition, the impact it will have on the community, and the likelihood of Vegas landing a Major League Baseball team.
What’s the latest on the construction? Is the move-in date still spring of 2019?
Everything was moving along fine, and then all of a sudden, we ran into caliche, so we had to drill down and blast it in order to move the dirt. That, of course, required getting blasting and dust permits, and the (Las Vegas Valley) Water District had to do an inspection to make sure we didn’t hit a water main. But this isn’t that complicated a structure to get done. El Paso’s (ballpark) was built in 207 days. Reno was done in nine months, so time-wise, we’re still good. All the concerned parties — which is us, the LVCVA, the city, the county — are all focused on 2019.
For years, you and multiple ownership groups expressed a need for the 51s to have a new, modern stadium. Why was it critical?
I travel around and I see what these stadiums have done. Just look at Reno. That’s a market that’s one-fifth the size of ours, and you see that beautiful stadium downtown and how the people responded to it and how successful it’s been. This facility is going to have the same type of impact in terms of construction jobs and full-time jobs — obviously, our staff is going to have to increase dramatically. And then there are the types of events we’re going to be able to do that we just can’t do (at Cashman) because the field is too fragile. A new field means concerts, it means college baseball tournaments, it means local high school and legion tournaments, it means national amateur tournaments, more big league (exhibition) games.
All of these things fit the core of what Las Vegas is about, which is putting heads in beds.
How much of the need for a new home was based on Cashman Field’s location in a deteriorating part of town?
That’s certainly part of it. You talk about the redevelopment of Downtown, well, everything that happened was south of the 95. North of the 95 was just forgotten. If it wasn’t for the (Grant Sawyer) state building, you wouldn’t want to drive down here.
And we heard from fans all the time: There’s nowhere to go before the game to get something to eat and drink, and certainly there’s no place after the game to do that. You basically come, go to the game, and get the hell out of here. We also had vandalism issues in the parking lot — just a lot of things that happen in deteriorating inner cities that made this a challenging place to operate.
So what took so long to finally get the stadium done?
You know, honestly, I’ve said this on the record, and I don’t like doing it, but we had 12 years of Oscar (Goodman) saying he’s a big-league mayor, and he really didn’t understand what Triple A baseball is. He didn’t understand how substandard (Cashman) was. And I don’t think he really cared, quite frankly; he wasn’t going to put any time and effort into it. Concurrently with being the mayor, he was also the chairman of the convention authority, which is the entity that owns (Cashman Center). … Oscar just didn’t get it.
Also, we went to the state Legislature in 2003, and they increased the rental car tax with the intent to use the revenue to build a new ballpark here and a new ballpark in Reno. Well, they did the ballpark in Reno, but the legislators from Southern Nevada decided The Smith Center was more important. So that jumped in front of us, and kind of wiped out a few years of effort there.
Then the city of Henderson had interest in doing (a ballpark) out there, but that never came to be. And Derek Stevens, when the Stevens family owned the team, he really wanted to do something Downtown where The Smith Center is, or right next to it, and again, Oscar would tell you he was interested, but I don’t think he ever really wanted to put a stadium down there.
Then, when the economy tanked, that changed the access to money. Once the economy started coming back and the Howard Hughes folks leaned forward and said, “Hey, we’ve got (land in Summerlin), and we’d like to look at it as a spot for a stadium,” it finally came into being.
For the last two decades, you’ve watched one sports venue after another pop up on and around the Strip, and yet the 51s were left in the on-deck circle. How frustrating was that for you?
Very. But to me, it was always the right goal, the right mission. We had to figure out a way to get it done — just from a purely business-of-baseball perspective.
This is probably the top Triple A market in the country — certainly one of the top three or four — and we’re such a can-do type of city. We’ve got the best hotels, best restaurants, best shopping, best entertainment, and to not have the type of (first-rate) facility for our baseball community just never made sense.
As frustrating as it was in that it took so long … I’m hard-headed enough to stay the course and keep grinding away, which is what I did. (Laughs.)
Given how much time and effort that you spent trying to make the stadium a reality, what were your emotions like when you knew for certain that it was a done deal?
Relief. And that relief didn’t last but for maybe a half hour to an hour, and then it was, “Oh my god, now we really have to get this thing going and get it done.” So immediately I started focusing on how to do that.
I spend the majority of every one of my days dealing with something (related to the new stadium). There are so many little pieces to the puzzle that require your attention — somebody just sent me an email today asking me what kind of locks we want on the doors.
But having Hughes involved is great, because they’re developers, so in terms of what it’s going to look like — what type of metal, the color (schemes) — that’s them. I’m really focusing on creating a facility that’s going to be the best in minor-league baseball, something people are going to want to go to multiple times a year, that’s going to function properly, and the business side of it is going to work at the level we need it to work.
What are your favorite elements of the new ballpark?
All of the destinations in the park. I was in Memphis, and (its new stadium) has this kids zone that has those splash pads — it’s a simple thing, but it’s a fun element that we don’t have (at Cashman). Also, the pool, because of the heat here, is going to be wildly successful. We’re going to have themed food-and-beverage areas throughout, and the club area is going to be absolutely unbelievable.
Since Hughes owns the team, it makes sense that they would choose to build the stadium in Summerlin. But is there any concern about moving from the center of town to a more isolated part of the valley?
Because most tickets these days are purchased with credit cards, you can look at ZIP code data, and what we learned was that 38 percent of our fans come from the northwest and Summerlin, while 37 percent come from Green Valley and Henderson. So basically, 75 percent of our fan base comes from those areas. So we got on the 215 at Green Valley Parkway and drove here (via) two routes: the 15 north to the 95 south, and the 215 east to the 515 north. What we determined was, because of traffic, it’s a shorter drive time-wise going from Green Valley Parkway and the 215 to the new stadium site than it is to Cashman.
So it’s actually going to be easier and faster for our core fans — and 75 percent is a significant number — to get to the ballpark. And now you have restaurants and shopping at Downtown Summerlin, plus Red Rock (Resort) — all the different pre- and postgame elements that our fans don’t have now.
How critical was it to secure the stadium naming rights agreement with the LVCVA, and was it an easy sell?
Nothing is easy. Not one bit of this has been easy! (Laughs.) But it made sense, because the convention authority is (also) the fair and recreation board for Clark County. And one of their charges when (Cashman Center) was built was they’re the overseer of professional baseball in the valley. You add that to the amount of money this place was costing them to operate, and to be able to get out from under that, it just made sense. It truly is a win-win.
As you know, Southern Nevada’s pro sports landscape has changed dramatically with the arrival of the NHL and, soon, the NFL, WNBA, and a new minor-league soccer team. In what way does this new competition affect the 51s?
If you compare us to the Knights and Raiders, we play in the summertime. We overlap a little at the end of the hockey season maybe and the beginning of the football season, but not much. So that doesn’t change. And then there are the price points. What’s going to be a premium ticket price for us doesn’t even get you in the door at a Knights game. So that really isn’t competition.
We have different audiences, too. I think we’re going to increase our aim of targeting families — that’s the core constituency of minor-league baseball, and now we have the right kind of place where people can really enjoy it and come out more often.
Does it also help that this is becoming more of a sports town?
Definitely. I’ve never understood why more people who live here don’t go to sporting events. I think it’s going to be good for all of us — for UNLV, for the Knights, for the Raiders, and it’s certainly for us and for the soccer team — to get people used to going to sporting events.
I’ve said this, and I’m not sure it’s the right terminology, but (the 51s are) a normal entertainment option in a city that has the most unique entertainment options of any market in the country. Until places like Downtown Summerlin, if you wanted to go see a movie, you had to go to a casino. If you want to go bowling, you go to a casino. This is going to be more normal. You’re going to go to a beautiful new professional ballpark like you would see in any city in the country.
So the Golden Knights are here, the Raiders are coming, and speculation is that the WNBA’s presence here is a precursor to Las Vegas landing an NBA team. Which begs the question: What are the odds Major League Baseball takes a swing at Southern Nevada?
Well, what are we, the 40th media market in the country? There’s only so much money in the market. There aren’t suburbs here, you don’t have the business base, and we’re still a real mono-dimensional economy — tourism is it. So to generate the type of sponsorship revenue and season-ticket revenue — and the Raiders are going to be looking for seat-license revenue — that to me is going to make it tough to go beyond the NHL and NFL.
The best chance for Major League Baseball in Las Vegas is if there’s expansion, and there are murmurs about that because there are two 15-team leagues right now, which means that every day you have interleague play. I think you need to have 32 teams in baseball — 16 teams in the American League, 16 in the National League — to balance out everything. And certainly, if (expansion) happens, Vegas is going to be one of the top candidates for one of those new teams.