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MGM Resorts, AEG break ground on 20,000-seat arena along Las Vegas Strip

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LAS VEGAS, Nev. - Officials broke ground Thursday on a 20,000-seat arena along the Las Vegas Strip that's expected to boost the city's chances of attracting professional sports teams and sate high demand for large-scale concerts and events in Sin City.

Boxing legend Floyd Mayweather arrived at the ceremony Thursday atop a yellow construction tractor and helped executives shovel dirt at the site while confetti rained down from above. Casino company MGM Resorts International and sports and entertainment giant AEG are collaborating on the $375 million project, which is the furthest along of several sports complexes proposed for Las Vegas in recent years.

"They've got shovels in the ground," Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak said about the MGM-AEG project, which is expected to create 3,500 construction jobs and 2,000 permanent jobs. "The other arenas are all talk."

Slated for completion in the spring of 2016, the arena will be the centerpiece of an 8-acre, tree-lined entertainment and dining district dubbed "The Park." It's located near the New York-New York and Monte Carlo casinos, between Las Vegas Boulevard and Interstate 15.

AEG officials said the arena's design is tailored to the Las Vegas market and will feature a nightclub and an especially wide range of seating options, including ultra-luxury VIP boxes.

While no professional teams have inked a deal to call the arena home, the new site will "dramatically increase the allure" of Las Vegas among sports franchises, said MGM CEO Jim Murren.

Developers have floated numerous arena proposals in recent years, but the privately financed MGM-AEG project is the only one to arrive at the groundbreaking stage.

"We weren't looking for a handout," Murren said. "Every other venture has been looking for someone else to carry the load."

A proposal by AEG and casino company Caesars Entertainment died in 2012 after attempts to fund the arena through a sales tax hike hit a wall.

Developers called for a 1 per cent sales tax on purchases within a 3-mile radius of the venue, but a ballot measure that was required to raise the rate failed to make it to a statewide vote in November 2012.

Similar troubles could face a separate proposal, backed by Mayor Carolyn Goodman, to build a $390 million, 20,000-seat arena near a new performing arts centre and outlet malls in Las Vegas' revitalized downtown.

Critics take issue with the finance plan, which calls for $151 million from developer Cordish Co. and $187 million in city-issued bonds that would be paid off with arena revenue. Downtown business owners have spoken out against a plan to cover the remaining $52 million by taxing them.

Goodman said the project is moving forward, and more details will be available at the end of the month, when the developer is required to finish feasibility studies.

"We're working very hard down here and we're thrilled MGM is doing this," she said, adding that any downtown arena would be complementary to the MGM project.

Murren said his company's venues turn away hundreds of events each year, signalling more than enough demand for an arena even though Las Vegas already has large-scale event centres.

The Thomas & Mack Center on the campus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas hosts events such as the NCAA basketball tournament and National Finals Rodeo. It has a capacity of about 19,500 spectators.

Three other casinos have large arenas around town. They include MGM Resorts' Mandalay Bay Events Center, which seats 12,000, the MGM Grand Garden Arena, which holds 17,000, and the Orleans Arena, which seats about 9,500.

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