There were critics that said a southern Nevada state tournament would never draw as well as a north tourney and that it would be counter productive from a cost standpoint to host a state event anywhere in southern Nevada.
Those critics had probably never seen the Orleans Arena. The 9,500 seat arena just west of the Las Vegas strip is a premiere venue perfect for hosting events like the Nevada state basketball championships. The Orleans is hosting its fifth state tournament weekend since 2005 and according to NIAA Executive Director Eddie Bonine no one has ever said to him, 'This place is garbage. Why do you play state here?'"
There's a reason no one's ever said that. There's never been a reason to say it. The Orleans has the luxury feel of an NBA arena, but the intimacy of a mid-major college setting. It has the amenities of a world-class casino-resort across the street, plenty of space to accommodate meeting rooms and multiple locker rooms for teams playing and preparing to play.
There is not a venue like it in the Truckee Meadows and there needs to be. A metro area with 350,000 people should have a venue like the Orleans. When multiple groups were exploring the possibilities of minor league baseball in Reno, there was talk a stadium could be in the works at the Sparks Marina. After the stadium focus shifted to Reno, local officials shared some thoughts of a mid-size multi-purpose arena in Sparks.
That was a great idea. It still is. Unfortunately, the economy took a dive in 2007 and any plans or ideas of city improvements sunk, too. Still, the northern Nevada community would benefit from a 5,000-7,000 seat multi-purpose arena. It would be even better if such a project landed in Sparks.
"The reality is Legends is not fully built out, but there hasn't been any talk of an arena or anything like it in the works there for a long time," City of Sparks spokesman Adam Mayberry said. "We have great outdoor facilities here in Sparks, like Golden Eagle Regional Park. We have talked to potential developers in the past about an indoor ice rink. Our vision, in a perfect world, is to make Sparks a premiere place where there's always something happening.
"Those kind of projects are based on demand. We've transitioned out of an economic era where you don't build something and assume events will come. It doesn't work like that anymore, maybe like it did a decade ago."
I'm not the only one who would like to see an Orleans-like arena built in the Rail City. Bonine, a Sparks resident, who also chairs the city's citizens advisory board, loves the Orleans and would love to see a similar venue in Sparks.
Bonine said the NIAA has looked into using the downtown Reno Events Center to host a state basketball tournament in the North. However, that facility does not have locker rooms.
"If Sparks built a seven-eight thousand seat area for sports and concerts, that would be great," Bonine said. "That would be a great issue to take to the city. Here at the Orleans, with 10,000 or so seats, you put 6,000 in here and it feels like 10,000. You put 6,000 in Lawlor and it feels like 6,000."
The Orleans is newer than Lawlor. It has all the bells and whistles of a newer nicer facility, but that doesn't mean the North doesn't need a similar venue. The economic environment right now may not leave an arena project on the top of a priority list, but it could be at the top of a wish list.
Dan Eckles is the Sparks Tribune's managing editor. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org