An aerial view shows Las Vegas Ballpark, which opened April 9 in Summerlin. (Tom Donoghue)

With pool and upscale food, it’s part diamond, part Strip

The weather has been a bit too brisk to enjoy the outfield swimming pool early in the season. Otherwise, though, the new Las Vegas Ballpark has been a big hit since it opened April 9.

“The first seven [games] were unbelievable,” said Don Logan, president and chief operating officer of the Pacific Coast League’s Las Vegas Aviators, the Oakland Athletics’ Triple-A affiliate and the ballpark’s tenant. “The only thing that could have been better was the weather. We had 50 mph winds on opening night, which settled down to 30 mph winds the next night. A local high school lacrosse team rented the pool and didn’t seem to mind the 70-degree water. It’s a little chilly for mortals right now.”

That will change as summer comes along. For Logan, in his 32nd year in Vegas, the $150 million stadium has been a long time coming. Over the past 20 years, he’s tried to get a new ballpark to replace Cashman Field, which opened in 1983 and eventually became a financial liability to maintain for its landlord, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

A few summers ago, for example, in an emergency situation, the authority had to spend $1 million one weekend to replace a chiller “when it was 115 degrees outside and we had no air conditioning” for the ballpark’s indoor spaces, Logan said.

“Vegas is a great baseball town and we needed to have a state-of-the-art facility that’s representative of the sport,” he said. “It’s the No. 1 sport in southern Nevada; all you have to do is look at the number of active players in Major League Baseball and the minors.”

Several years ago, Logan tried to get the Los Angeles Dodgers to move spring training from Florida to Vegas, thinking it would drive the need for a new ballpark. The Dodgers instead opted for Camelback Ranch in Arizona, a facility they share with the Chicago White Sox.

It wasn’t until the Howard Hughes Corp., a real estate developer whose origins date to the eccentric billionaire for whom the company is named, acquired a stake in team ownership in 2012 that things started moving forward on a new stadium. Four years later, the company acquired full team ownership and financed the ballpark project in Summerlin, a community in west Las Vegas named for Howard Hughes’ grandmother.

The 10,000-capacity ballpark, which sits 11 miles west of Cashman Field and about nine miles west of the Vegas Strip, is the newest piece of the developer’s commercial properties. Las Vegas Ballpark sits across the street from the Red Rock Casino Resort & Spa, and there are multiple restaurants and retail outlets nearby, including Dave & Buster’s, the PGA Tour Superstore, Dillard’s, Macy’s and a movie theater complex.

The stadium also sits next to City National Arena, headquarters and practice facility for the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights. That building’s two ice sheets stay busy with youth and adult hockey leagues and figure skating lessons, Logan said.

“It took an entity like the Howard Hughes Corp. to get involved to get this done with the advent of major league sports with the Golden Knights” and now the NFL’s Raiders, who are scheduled to begin playing in Vegas in 2020, he said. “You couldn’t find a better place to put a ballpark. They own all the property out there so that was key. It wouldn’t be as successful as it’s been without them being involved.”

The ballpark itself, designed by HOK and built by the joint venture of AECOM Hunt and local firm Penta Building Group, was influenced in part by design features at other minor league parks in Charlotte, N.C. (corner outfield party decks); El Paso, Texas (separate press box level); and Durham, N.C. (stadium club behind home plate).  

Logan, through an extensive career in minor league baseball that includes a 10-year stint with Mandalay Baseball, has been to every Triple-A park, some in Double-A and multiple MLB stadiums. The silver lining in the long journey to develop the Vegas ballpark was seeing what everyone else had done and finding out what had worked and what hadn’t, Logan said.

The swimming pool, beyond right-center field, was inspired by the pool at Chase Field, home of MLB’s Arizona Diamondbacks. It was a no-brainer and something Logan confirmed as a feature early in design talks, said Anton Foss, HOK’s principal-in-charge.

View from the swimming pool at Las Vegas Ballpark. (Tom Donoghue)

“Summers here are hot and you’ve got to have a pool,” Logan said.

The Aviators sell the “pool suite” as a single-game group package for $2,000. It comes with 54 tickets tied to a combination of deck chairs and lounge chairs. The pool itself has 14 stools where fans can sit in 3 feet of water and view the game through a chain-link fence.  

The Hangar, a social space for young adults, sits next to the pool with a bar and is modeled after the Band Box at First Tennessee Park, a popular hangout at the home of the Triple-A Nashville Sounds.

There are 22 suites, 15 of which carry long-term leases. The cost is $75,000 a season with three-, five-, seven- and 10-year deals. The 400 club seats sell for $2,200 a person. All premium inventory is sold out.

The 8,200 fixed seats are a mesh seating product made by 4Topps, a brand familiar to teams developing new facilities and renovating existing venues. It’s the first time the Winston-Salem, N.C., company has supplied all general seating at one facility. Last season, the Aviators tested a few mesh seats at Cashman Field to make sure the seats would withstand mustard spills, among other issues, and they were satisfied with the results, Foss said.

Professional Sports Catering, a Levy subsidiary focusing on minor league baseball, stepped up its game at Las Vegas Ballpark in a market where fine dining is a staple at the city’s casinos. The Aviators used Sarah Camarota, who is a partner in three Vegas restaurants and a former Levy employee, to consult on food service. In the stadium club, there’s a show kitchen for acclaimed local chefs to conduct cooking demonstrations and meals, Logan said.

The benchmark is Wolfgang Puck, who runs restaurants in Summerlin. The Aviators have discussed the concept of having him run a celebrity chef night at the ballpark, Foss said.

“It’s a Vegas thing … that high level of quality has become an expectation for Howard Hughes Corp.,” he said. “What I’ve learned about them is they are not going to do anything if it’s not done first class.”

The convention authority bought the ballpark’s naming rights for $80 million over 20 years. The name Las Vegas Ballpark does not reflect a corporate brand, but it fits the authority’s goal for bringing exposure to the city’s tourism efforts. The activation includes the team’s commitment to book community events at the stadium, including the high school state baseball tournament.

“The strategy was to really promote Las Vegas,” Logan said. “The authority’s primary role is to put heads in beds and create awareness for the market. We talked to a few other companies about naming rights, but this makes sense. We want it to be Las Vegas Ballpark because this is for all of Vegas. The publicity has been fantastic. It’s one of the best deals ever in minor league baseball.”