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Las Vegas wants an NHL team and it finally has a home that can welcome the league to town in full Vegas style.
Now open on the Strip, the 20,00-seat T-Mobile Arena is the desert city’s first full-size downtown arena, a venue that embodies the spirit of the nightlife-led environment for which Vegas is famous. Sporting a desert-inspired design and hockey-centric seating bowl, it is the first major arena or stadium that will have a well-known mixologist running its beverage program.
With the variety of concerts and events the city ordinarily draws, building a full-scale arena in Las Vegas is part of a plan to do more than just lure an NHL expansion team to town. But whether it's hockey or shows, the joint venture by MGM Resorts and the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG owns of dozens of arenas, stadiums and theaters worldwide, including LA Live and Staples Center, home to the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings) is meant to mesh within the bustle of the Strip. At 655,000 square feet, T-Mobile Arena stands out near the Monte Carlo and New York New York resorts, a new park environment, restaurants and a public space. The arena even has an exterior stage projecting off the front of the building in order to bring entertainment outside.
“It was critical to us that it be integrated into the city,” MGM Resorts president Bill Hornbuckle tells SI.com. “It ended up right in the heart of the resorts we own and operate, but you don’t fall out into a hotel resort environment. That opens up additional opportunities and paves the way for the NHL, NBA and potentially other sports. It was meant to be for the city.”
The sports architecture firm Populous gave the building a true Vegas-style look, with one side featuring natural desert-inspired materials and the other, the side facing the Strip, boasting an oversized video wall for advertising the arena's events.
Knowing that the Strip can be an overwhelming experience, AEG's CEO Dan Beckerman says the design needed to provide a striking view to break through the glitz. “The architecture is pretty stunning when you look at how it incorporates the natural surroundings and the desert motif and still embraces the light and life of the Strip.”
Behind the scenes: Las Vegas’s NHL-ready T-Mobile Arena
Desert ambiance also inspired the interior design that makes visitors feel like they are going from the depths of a cave and through a canyon to the top of the mountain all in the same building. Without a major corporate market to back a massive level of suites, T-Mobile instead has a bowl for the 20,000 seats and 50 total suites including eight event-level bunkers and only one level of suites higher up. “The upper concourse and relationship to the main bowl is very tight,” says Hornbuckle. “You are literally right on the action. Whether hockey or basketball, is it much closer than any other arena.”
“T-Mobile has club offerings like no other building,” Beckerman says. “It is because of Las Vegas that we have designed and created it that way.”
The Hyde Lounge, a nightclub-inspired space, is an 18,000-square-foot club with two triangle platforms that extend over the crowd below for unique views. Two turret-like structures rise high into the arena to create tower clubs that overlook the bowl and cater to the “distinctive nightlife of Las Vegas.” Terrace tables, loge boxes and opera boxes offer a diverse premium-seating program designed to appeal to a spectrum of desires. “We thought the club environment was important,” says Hornbuckle.
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T-Mobile caters to the VIP crowd with its premium seating options and two special entrances where folks can exit their cars, walk 85 feet into a bunker suite and then another 12 feet to their seats. Concessionaire Levy Restaurants has brought in famed Bellagio mixologist Tony Abou-Ganim to create an arena-wide beverage program. “Nobody has really embraced the resurgence of craft cocktails to implement such a hand-crafted program into an arena,” Abou-Ganim says. “I am thrilled.”
Abou-Ganim's his goal was to create consistency throughout the arena, whether in a T-Mobile margarita—he’s especially excited for the Patron, fresh lime, fresh lemon, agave nectar variety—or any other mixed drink that will be served by the more than 50 bartenders. With a venue this size in a location such as Las Vegas, a signature drink was a must. It will be served everywhere in the arena and with a magenta color to match the T-Mobile sponsorship.
“That is not the easiest color to come up with,” he says. “That was another challenge and I love those types of challenges.” So Abou-Ganim created the Atomic Fizz with citrus vodka, agave nectar, freshly squeezed lemon juice, orange-rhubarb, fresh prickly pear puree and seltzer water.
Even the beverage program is tied to the dream of housing hockey. Abou-Ganim put a focus on ice, working with a local company to develop different shapes and cuts for the cubes. “Ice is a big undertaking and focus for us,” he says. “With the hope of a NHL team, we put a focus on ice.”
There’s plenty more on offer. “We are ripe and ready for a team full on,” Hornbuckle says. The lockerrooms have NHL standard amenities and T-Mobile also has space for basketball, if the NBA ever comes calling. “We have separate zones for the NHL, the NBA and concert star green rooms. It was space and money, but we built it out and we are ready to go for the NHL and entertainers.”
Even if the NHL doesn’t arrive with a new team anytime soon, T-Mobile will host the Kings each year in the city's popular preseason exhibition game. This year, they will play in T-Mobile twice.
“It is a date Kings fans mark on their calendars every year,” Beckerman says. "We are obviously big believers in the market and that is evident from the project. We think the arena would be perfect for hockey. We are very impressed by the season ticket campaign. We are supportive of (NHL expansion to Las Vegas under Bill Foley) and think the team would be successful there.”
The new arena has Las Vegas off to an impressive start.
Tim Newcomb covers sports aesthetics—stadiums, sneakers and more—for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.