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Batting Around: A new ballpark in Vegas?

51s hope to benefit from city's recent spurt of sports scene success

By Benjamin Hill / MiLB.com

It's been an eventful year for professional sports in Las Vegas.

Last June, a National Hockey League expansion franchise was awarded to the Nevada city. That team, the Vegas Golden Knights, will debut next season. The National Football League soon may join the Golden Knights on the Las Vegas sports scene, as it was announced last week that the Oakland Raiders have applied to relocate there.

These significant developments have ignited discussion regarding the future of the city's longest-running professional sports franchise: the Las Vegas 51s. The Pacific Coast League team, Triple-A affiliate of the New York Mets, has played at Cashman Field since 1983 (the inaugural season for both facility and franchise).

Cashman Field has seen better days, to put it mildly. As covered in a January 2016 edition of this column, PCL president Branch Rickey III wrote a letter to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitor's Authority (LVCVA) that noted the "deterioration" of Cashman Field. He stressed, however, that "[t]he PCL has no desire to relent on Las Vegas as a territory."

Neither do the 51s, who are owned in part by the Howard Hughes Corp. When that entity purchased its stake in the team in 2013, it was with the intent of moving it to a new facility in nearby Summerlin, Nevada. As the Las Vegas Review Journal reported in August 2016, those plans had "stagnated" due to differences between 51s ownership and government officials regarding the project's likely cost.

But with Vegas sports riding a lucky streak, the 51s' ballpark dreams have been revived. As the newspaper reported earlier this week, "The Howard Hughes Corp. ... would donate the land in Summerlin for the proposed stadium, which would be adjacent to the practice facility under construction for the NHL's Vegas Golden Knights."

"I think you'll see something come to fruition on that in the next couple months," Clark County Commission chairman Steve Skisolak said, "in the manner of an understanding the location of a stadium, the design of a stadium and how it would be orchestrated and constructed, paid for, what not."

Cashman Field is operated by the LVCVA. The 51s' lease extends through the 2022 season, although that would not be an obstacle to the team moving before then if a new stadium is built.

Amarillo in the mix

In a recent MiLB.com interview, outgoing Texas League president Tom Kayser remarked that the most pressing issue facing the league is the long-term future of the San Antonio Missions. If long-gestating (but stalled) plans to build a Triple-A ballpark in San Antonio come to fruition, the Texas League's San Antonio Missions would have to relocate. (If a Triple-A ballpark is built, it would house the relocated Colorado Springs Sky Sox. The Elmore Group owns both the Sky Sox and the Missions.)

Where would they relocate? Several cities have expressed interest, most notably Amarillo. The Texas panhandle city has, for more than a decade, made stop and start efforts to build a ballpark and, perhaps, lure an affiliated team. In 2015, voters approved a non-binding referendum to build a multi-purpose event venue/downtown stadium; a year later, the city's Local Government Commission (LGC) unanimously recommended the pursuit of a Double-A team, but those efforts ended after the Elmore Group declined to sign a letter of intent.

Amarillo's efforts continue, however. Amarillo.com reported on Tuesday that the city "appears to be closer to negotiating a deal" with a Minor League team. That news was based on a closed door city council agenda item entitled "Negotiation of Lease and Management Agreement with Affiliated Baseball Team - MPEV."

Reached for comment, city officials offered conflicting accounts regarding the timeline of the negotiations. LGC subcommittee chairman Jerry Hodge told the website that the council is negotiating with two teams, indicating that Amarillo's interest extends beyond monitoring the situation in San Antonio.

PawSox proceed

In February 2015, the Pawtucket Red Sox were sold to a Boston Red Sox-affiliated ownership group that intended to move the team to an urban riverfront stadium in neighboring Providence. In the face of fervent public opposition, the plan was scrapped. The team remains at McCoy Stadium, a much-beloved local institution that was built in 1942.

PawSox ownership has continued to analyze its stadium options, including an extensive renovation of McCoy Stadium. One potential location is a property on the Pawtucket waterfront owned by the Apex Development Co. The local Valley Breeze reported that there have been ongoing talks regarding this location; the riverfront site, proximity to Interstate-95 and the potential for further development in the area were listed among its desirable attributes.

The newspaper also reported that Pawtucket city officials "declined to comment" on the Apex site, as their focus remains on an ongoing McCoy Stadium feasibility study.