The studies are now all in, and city officials say they know this much: Hampton Roads is ready for big-time sports. What they don't know is how much that might cost. And what they won't confirm is what team they are trying to attract as they work on a deal to build a $350 million arena at the Oceanfront.
The latest report on what the arena would do for the economy, released at Tuesday's City Council meeting, found it would generate more economic impact than an earlier study predicted.
"The more we learn, the more we find we do have a city, a region and a commonwealth to support a professional sports team," Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms said.
Sessoms confirmed he's met with a representative of a sports team and said the team has a "great interest" in coming to Virginia Beach. He did not name the team.
"They have not provided a number for what it will take to make them come here," he said.
Sources have said that the target tenant for the arena is the NBA's Sacramento Kings, and that a team representative met recently with Gov. Bob McDonnell, in addition to Sessoms. The team has repeatedly refused to comment on a possible relocation.
A group of companies, led by media and sports giant Comcast-Spectacor - owner of the NHL's Philadelphia Flyers and former owner of the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers - is in talks with the city to build an 18,500-seat arena next to the Virginia Beach Convention Center. Comcast would lease and operate the arena for 25 years. Comcast-Spectacor and city officials are still working out how a potential deal would be structured.
"The question is, 'When are we going to have a term sheet?' " Sessoms told the council. "I don't have answer for you."
The study presented Tuesday, done by Texas-based Conventions, Sports & Leisure International, showed the annual revenue for southeastern Virginia generated by an arena would be $152 million, including $92 million in Virginia Beach. It would create 1,900 jobs and $8.9 million in city tax revenue.
The $40,000 study was ordered by the City Council to double-check the first arena study done by Old Dominion University economics professor James Koch. That study, based on data provided to Koch by a company working with city officials on the proposal, said an arena, starting in 2015, would generate $98 million in revenue for the region, including $66 million in Virginia Beach, and create 1,230 jobs.
Bill Rhoda, principal of Conventions, Sports & Leisure, said the Koch study was based on preliminary information and may not have taken into account all revenue streams.
He said the lack of a professional sports team in the area would help attendance at the arena because fans would not have other options for pro sports.
City officials also are seeking financial support from the state to build the arena and attract a team.
A third report that came out last month said the statewide economic impact of an NBA team would be almost $503 million a year, including almost $11 million annually in state tax revenue and the creation of 3,700 jobs. Forty-four NBA games a year starting in 2015 would attract 704,000 spectators, an average of 16,000 per game, said the report by Richmond-based Chmura Economics & Analytics.
Rhoda said he found those attendance numbers reasonable.
Councilman Bill DeSteph questioned some attendance projections used in the studies, saying he found them unrealistic.
Sessoms said any arena deal would involve private, local and state money.
Aaron Applegate, 757-222-5122, firstname.lastname@example.org
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