January 9, 2013
Bless their dreaming hearts, Virginia Beach city officials and entertainment bigfoot Comcast-Spectacor insisted Tuesday they "remain committed to the concept" of building a sports arena near the oceanfront and luring a major professional franchise.
Alas, their well-intended concept is as flawed as the team they were pursuing, the NBA's downtrodden Sacramento Kings.
Negotiations with the Kings' owning family, the Maloofs, stalled, and with legislative and NBA deadlines beckoning, Mayor Will Sessoms announced Tuesday that the city has back-burnered the project.
Ignoring the dubious premise that our fair region — please don't insult us next time by including Richmond — could and would support an NBA or NHL team long-term, the overarching issue is arena financing.
Any franchise looking to move is, in all likelihood, a mess. The team is losing, fans are revolting, ownership is losing money and the arena is lacking. Otherwise, why bail?
As a result, the owners have their hands out. They want a no-expenses-spared playpen, a sweetheart lease and untold millions for moving expenses.
Virginia Beach projected costs of more than $400 million, approximately $346 million for the arena. But to meet that nut, city officials, who never publicly acknowledged the Kings as a target, said they needed $150 million from the state.
Sorry, dudes. How could a state that fails to adequately address its education and transportation needs contribute $150 million to help lure an habitual NBA loser?
Were the state flush and the economy humming, had the Maloofs not jilted Anaheim, Calif., two years ago, maybe. But not now.
Gov. Bob McDonnell, an unabashed sports fan, said as much late last month when I asked him about Virginia Beach's request.
"I think it's going to be a tough row to hoe," he told me. "Simply the amount of the money given the length of the payback makes it tough. I know this is a model that has worked around the country with public and private dollars, state and local, coming together to make deals work for arenas. But we've got a lot more to do before I could recommend to the General Assembly that this is a good deal for the taxpayers. …
"We have a formal request now for $150 million, which is an incredibly large amount of money. It was somewhat controversial just for the $4 million we provided the Redskins to get them to do … a summer (training) camp in Richmond."
The General Assembly's 2013 session opens Wednesday and continues next month. The NBA's deadline to petition for relocation is March 1.
Those pressing dates prompted Tuesday's joint statement from Sessoms and Comcast-Spectacor.
"The city of Virginia Beach and Comcast-Spectacor are working diligently to reach an agreement to build an entertainment and sports arena at the Virginia Beach resort," the statement said. "Both parties remain committed to the concept of an arena in Virginia Beach and to continuing discussions with a potential anchor tenant.
"That said, we have not reached a level of progress that will allow the city to go before the General Assembly to request the necessary funding. If the city is to secure support from the state, which is critical to this project, we must have a firm proposal for the legislature to consider. We must make more progress with our discussions."
Cities such as Seattle and Louisville are far better positioned to land the Kings, or any NBA team for that matter. Seattle, which lost its SuperSonics to Oklahoma City over arena issues, plans a new building adjacent to the stadiums that house baseball's Mariners and football's Seahawks; Louisville already has an NBA-caliber arena, home to the University of Louisville's basketball teams.
Hampton Roads has no such assets. Hampton Roads has Comcast-Spectacor, owner of the NHL's Philadelphia Flyers, and major-league ambition.
But that ambition belongs to a fractured region where municipal cooperation is minimal, traffic is brutal and fan/corporate support is unproven.
The NHL, NBA, Major League Baseball: Hampton Roads has chased them all during the last 20 years, to no avail, and probably will again.
Each would grace us with iconic performers such as Alex Ovechkin, LeBron James and Albert Pujols. Each would test our patience with dog-day games against hapless opponents — "And now introducing, the Washington Wizards!"
"It's got to be a good proposition for the taxpayers," McDonnell said.
Good luck finding an owner who would agree to such.
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