Reno ‘Grand’ sports-entertainment plans


New arena for Reno Image: Reno Arena

The University of Nevada’s basketball team could have a new off-campus home by 2026 under an ambitious 10-year expansion plan that Reno’s (City in Nevada, US) largest hotel-casino announced recently.

‘TULSA WORLD’ stated that the estimated $1 billion private capital investment will be the biggest in the City’s history, according to officials of the Grand Sierra Resort and Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve.

The University of Nevada, Reno, is a public land-grant research university in Reno, Nevada (US). It is the State’s flagship public university and primary land grant institution. It was founded on October 12th, 1874 in Elko, Nevada.

The Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball program is a college basketball team that represents the University of Nevada, Reno. The team is currently a member of the Mountain West Conference, which is a Division I Conference in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

The 12,000-capacity Lawlor Events Center is Northern Nevada’s largest multipurpose arena. It is located in Reno, Nevada at the intersection of North Virginia Street and 15th Street on the University of Nevada, Reno campus. It is named after the former Athletic Director, baseball, basketball and football coach Jake Lawlor. It serves as the home venue of the Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball.

Indianapolis (US)-based the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is a nonprofit organization that regulates student-athletics among about 1,100 schools in the United States and Canada. It also organizes the athletic programs of colleges and helps over 500,000 college student-athletes who compete annually in college sports.

The Grand Sierra Resort (formerly MGM Grand Reno, Bally’s Reno and Reno Hilton) is a hotel and casino located approximately three miles East of Downtown Reno, Nevada (US). The hotel has 1,990 guest rooms and suites, 27 floors, 12 restaurants, and a casino with 80,000 sq ft of space.

‘TULSA WORLD’ further stated that in addition to the new 10,000-seat sports, concert and special events arena, the expansion plans for the 140-acre (57-hectare) property include a new 800-room hotel tower, 300 “affordable” riverfront residential units to help address workforce housing shortages, a golf center, and Las Vegas-like water shows in addition to other upgrades, the company said.

Informed Alex Mereulo, resort owner, who also is the majority owner of the National Hockey League’s (NHL’s) Arizona Coyotes, “The vision is to transform the Grand Sierra Resort into a destination where community, sports and entertainment come together.”

Mereulo and the University of Nevada President Brian Sandoval confirmed they’ve been exploring a partnership for some time between the resort and the basketball team, “which could make the arena their home beginning with the Fall 2026 season”.

They said no public money will be involved in the financing.

Mereulo told a crowd of more than 100 at the formal announcement made recently in a nightclub just off the casino floor as a dozen Nevada cheerleaders cheered, “The investment will be at least $1 billion. This will be the home of the Wolf Pack.”

The new arena would cover approximately 300,000 square feet (27,871 square meters), including suites and premium hospitality clubs. A rendering of the arena indicated it would be built in the parking lot of the existing hotel-casino.

Sandoval, a 1986 Nevada graduate who served two terms as Governor before he was appointed the university President in 2020, said the school is “excited to explore the opportunity to partner with Alex Mereulo and the Grand Sierra Resort as they develop a state-of-the-art arena and entertainment district that is unprecedented in Northern Nevada. It will create what I think is the greatest sports venue in the United States.”

Sandoval reflected on how college sports have changed: When he was a student, casino advertising was prohibited at the sports venues, even in Nevada, where gambling has long been legal – “I think there’s been a recognition that sports betting has proliferated throughout the country and that it’s regulated strictly and appropriately, and you can have this balance between the gaming industry and college sports.”

Nevada basketball coach Steve Alford informed that the arena would have a huge impact on recruiting – “Now, as we get into a new era of basketball and how we go about doing our business, with the NIL (Name Image Likeness), with the transfer portal, to be able to sell this on top of our community, on top of our university, it just puts us at a whole ‘nother level. It’s a whole ‘nother student-athlete that we’re going to be able to get into homes and talk to.”

Nevada Athletic Director Stephanie Rempe told newsmen that a lot of work already has been put into examining the partnership and one of the next steps will be to brief the State Board of Regents, which would have to sign off on any final agreement. But she said she’s confident the deal will come together.

Added Rempe, “Do I think it’s going to happen? Absolutely. But we can’t get ahead of ourselves in the process. We need to make sure all the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed and the right people who make the final decisions about the university are well-versed and supportive. And we’ll continue to see how that plays out.”

Nevada, of the Mountain West Conference, has played its games on campus at the Lawlor Events Center since the Center opened in 1983. Before that, the Wolf Pack played in a convention center South of downtown.

The 2,000-room resort, located along Interstate 80 a couple miles from the main downtown casino drag, boasted the largest casino floor in North America when it opened as the MGM in 1978. It later flew under the banners of Bally’s and the Reno Hilton. It’s been the Grand Sierra Resort since 2006 and under control of Mereulo’s current ownership group since 2011.

Schieve said the historic investment would be a “true game changer for our community … a massive win for our citizens, a win for the University of Nevada, and a win for tourism.”

The investment would be the biggest in a Reno casino property since the Silver Legacy, at an estimated cost of $230 million, opened in 1995. A shopping mall project that’s partly opened and remains in the works has an estimated price tag of $600 million.

Last year, Las Vegas hosted Sweet 16 games for the NCAA basketball tournament at the 20,000-capacity T-Mobile Arena on the Vegas Strip. But before that, the NCAA Tournament had avoided Nevada altogether because sports gambling is legal here. The governing body for collegiate athletics even had a policy prohibiting its championship events from being played in Nevada.

With legal sports betting spreading across United States, the NCAA now has no qualms about crowning its champions in Las Vegas. Others include hockey’s Frozen Four (ice hockey) in 2026 and the Final Four in 2028.

‘Grand’ Plans

‘GRAND SIERRA RESORT’ stated that the plans include a 10,000-seat state-of-the-art arena, cutting-edge golf facility, new 800-room hotel tower, affordable riverfront residential units, and more.

‘GRAND SIERRA RESORT’ further stated that the centerpiece of this visionary project is a cutting-edge arena designed to host various events such as concerts, special events, basketball games, and other sports, with a capacity exceeding 10,000 seats.

Averred Meruelo, “The precipice of an extraordinary transformation is upon us. This will not only redefine the Grand Sierra Resort but will also elevate Reno to new heights in the realm of entertainment and sports. We recognize and value the community’s support and enthusiasm as we commence this journey together.”

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