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Joe Downtown: A rooftop Wranglers arena at the Plaza could be just what Downtown needs

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Game on! The Plaza’s rooftop will soon host the Las Vegas Wranglers hockey team.
Photo: Steve Marcus

A short eight months from now, hockey will likely be played on top of the Plaza hotel-casino Downtown. It’s one of those “only in Las Vegas” ideas, spawned by Brit Jonathan Jossel, who dug roots here seven years ago as head of Las Vegas properties for Tamares Group, which owns the Plaza.

Jossel had heard about the Wranglers’ predicament: In December, the team announced its lease with the Orleans would not be renewed this fall and it was looking for a new Valley home. Walking his dog, Snorkel, one day shortly after, Jossel wondered where he could find enough land Downtown to house a rink.

That’s when it hit him: Hockey. Downtown. A rink. The Plaza roof. The more he thought about it, the stronger he believed it would work. “Not only do I believe people would come Downtown [for hockey games],” Jossel says, but Downtown would welcome hockey. “It would add to the variety of things to do Downtown.”

Billy Johnson, Wranglers president and chief operating officer, sees the fit, too. His people are already at work on plans to reconfigure the rooftop into a rink, committing some $4 million to the conversion.

Downtown had been growing in the collective mind of the Wranglers as an interesting place over the last few years, Johnson said. He just didn’t know the team would be forced to consider it as a home so soon.

“And we have a kind of funky brand anyway … so it fits with the praying mantis and all that,” he said, referencing the Burning Man sculpture that shoots flames from metallic antennae at the entry to the Container Park on Fremont Street.

It’s almost March. The Wranglers’ next season begins in October, with the first home games in November—eight short months to build the new rink.

Johnson says the team is ready to employ a technology that allows the space “to be built quickly.” A big time-saver is the fact that the Plaza is already hooked into the infrastructure necessary to make such a project work. “And they already have a traffic plan, parking spaces,” Johnson says.

The rink would be housed inside a shell built of some kind of insulated fabric attached to a metallic skeleton. “It’s not really a tent,” Johnson adds. “It’s going to be an arena [for about 3,500 seats]. The difference is the fabric and insulation for sound and climate control.”

Wranglers hockey runs through April. After that, the rooftop arena could be used as a concert venue and for other events. Johnson thinks it would hold 50 additional events the first year and 100 the second. One unintended result of the plan might also be that, with the Wranglers filling a niche for “something else to do” Downtown, it could put the pinch on a city plan to build a $390 million hockey/basketball arena Downtown. The city plans to release financing details in coming months.

Sure, a professional arena is a totally different beast—and the Wranglers’ average attendance is reportedly close to 5,000, more than the Plaza space would hold. But do people of limited financial resources really care about a new arena, especially if a funky rooftop space offers tickets at a fraction of the cost?

Both Jossel and Johnson are certain existing fans will attend games at the Plaza, to say nothing of a new crop of fans to be cultivated Downtown. “The burden of proof is on us and the Plaza,” Johnson says. “Once we get those first games out of the way, though, those people who are reluctant to come Downtown, once they hear the atmosphere is awesome and the parking is fine, that will take care of itself.”

Better yet, what if the Plaza’s hockey rink has windows? Johnson admits he hadn’t thought of that design element until I mentioned it, and how people might buy a ticket to a hockey game just for the view. “If we do it,” he says, chuckling, “We’ll name a window after you.”

I’ll hold him to it.

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