A Major League Soccer exhibition next month at Cashman Field won’t get Las Vegas closer to landing an expansion franchise.
But if it Jason Ader’s vision comes true, that could change. Teams such as the Los Angeles Galaxy and San Jose Earthquakes, who play Feb. 13, would make regular stops here to play against the Las Vegas’ MLS entry.
Ader, a New York-based investor and Las Vegas Sands Corp. board member, is leading the latest charge to lure the league to Southern Nevada. His group — Bob Schulman and Scott Watt of Watt Cos., Laus Abdo of AGP Capital and Las Vegas investment manager Roger Tabor — last summer proposed a $350 million plan to convert Cashman Field into an expanded soccer venue and bring an MLS team to Las Vegas.
Ader said this past week the group wants to either significantly revamp, or completely tear down and rebuild, Cashman Field to have a capacity of at least 18,000. Cashman Field, which was built for baseball in the early 1980s, has a capacity of about 10,000.
“We’re definitely past the first steps, but we have a long way to go,” Ader said. “It’s important to put forward something that’s not only good for Las Vegas, but something that can compete with the many other cities that also want an expansion team.”
The plan also includes redeveloping the half-mile stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard from U.S. Highway 95 to Cashman to include residential buildings, offices, restaurants and shopping, according to a seven-page proposal letter sent from Abdo to Bill Arent, the city’s economic development chief.
Abdo, who Ader describes as his “man on the ground in Las Vegas,” said the group has spoken with all of Cashman’s stakeholders, including the city, the Las Vegas 51s baseball team and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, and hopes to submit a formal proposal to MLS in “early” 2016.
The 51s’ ownership has been working the past two years to build a new stadium in Summerlin.
“Really, it’s a matter of the 51s deciding if they want to move to Summerlin at this point,” Abdo said. “But we’re ready to go, we’re ready to move into the proper arrangements with all of the proper stakeholders.”
Since the expansion announcement, groups in more than 10 new potential markets have expressed interest, said MLS spokesman Dan Courtemanche, speaking on behalf of MLS Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott, who handles league expansion.
But Las Vegas’ latest proposal, which would include the privately funded renovated Cashman, keeps it at the “top of the list” for future consideration, Courtemanche said.
“We’re a young, diverse millennial fan base and certainly that also matches up well with Las Vegas,” he added.
Last February, it was different story because there was no stadium to host a team.
Major League Soccer passed on a bid from Findlay Sports & Entertainment and the Cordish Cos. for a franchise to play in a $200 million, 24,000-seat proposed stadium at Symphony Park downtown. The rejection came, in part, because the city allotted $56.5 million of the stadium’s costs to be publicly funded, Courtemanche said.
Although Vegas’ latest MLS proposal is designed to meet the league’s goal of securing a “comprehensive stadium plan where the ownership controls the venue,” Abdo said the city and development groups must act fast to avoid being beat out by the latest potential MLS markets.
“Unless we get something organized and finalized quickly, there won’t be any opportunities for Las Vegas to secure an MLS team,” he said.
Regardless, there will be soccer in February when the Galaxy and Earthquakes play “California Clasico” at Cashman. It’s the fourth straight year MLS has staged on exhibition game in Las Vegas, with Sam Boyd Stadium also hosting matches.
Earthquakes President Dave Kaval said his team enjoys playing at Cashman Field for its natural grass surface. He said he could see the venue eventually hosting an MLS team.
“I don’t see why not, especially with the passion that Las Vegas fans have for our sport,” he said.
San Jose played at Cashman Field last year just days after the MLS passed on the Findlay group's proposal. Even with the uncertainty, Kaval said returning for another exhibition this February remained attractive — a good sign for the new hopeful owners.
“I think there was some doubt, but we love coming to Vegas and it was our objective to make it back here,” Kaval said. “We moved some dates with our games in Tucson, and found a Vegas date that worked with the Galaxy’s schedule, too.”