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Lawmakers react to Va. Beach pitch for arena funding
Lawmakers react to Va. Beach pitch for arena funding

By Aaron Applegate
The Virginian-Pilot
© November 29, 2012

VIRGINIA BEACH

General Assembly members on Wednesday greeted the city’s pitch to the state for $150 million to help build an arena and attract a professional sports team with mixed reactions, ranging from tempered enthusiasm to outright dismissal.

A letter asking for money for the $380 million project included a note of urgency, saying a decision is needed in this General Assembly session, which kicks off in January, to start construction on the arena next year and have a team playing there in 2015.

In bold print, the letter said: “Without financial participation from the Commonwealth, this project cannot move forward.”

Under a deal sketched out by Mayor Will Sessoms to the City Council on Tuesday night, the city would contribute $195 million, and Comcast-Spectacor, the Philadelphia-based sports and entertainment company that would lease and operate the arena and is working to recruit the pro sports team, would put in $35 million.

Sources have said since August that the target tenant for the 18,500-seat arena is the NBA’s Sacramento Kings.

The $150 million requested from the state includes $70 million to build the arena and $80 million to help the team relocate.

Del. Bob Tata of Virginia Beach, an appropriations committee member, called the arena concept “pie in the sky.”

“This is a beer and pretzel town,” he said. “Realistically, if I had to vote on it, I’d vote no. I just can’t see. Pro sports, it’s a tough racket. It’s here today, gone tomorrow.”

He said he doesn’t think an NBA team could be successful in Virginia Beach if it can’t make it in Sacramento, the capital of California.

“The lobbyists alone ought to be able to fill up the arena every game,” he said.

“My initial response is, I’m not in favor of it,” said Del. Chris Jones of Suffolk, also an appropriations committee member. “In tight economic times, taking away from other core functions of government, I’m not sure it’s the right thing to do.”

State Sen. Frank Wagner of Virginia Beach, a member of the finance committee, said he’d carry legislation to allow sales tax generated by the arena to be used to cover payments on money borrowed for construction.

“Does that generate enough? That’s the question,” he said. “If the numbers work out, I’m going to support it.”

State Sen. Jeff McWaters of Virginia Beach said he wants to closely examine the business case for the arena. 

“That’s a lot of money,” he said. “I’d have to look through a business plan to see how we get repaid. I don’t have anywhere near the facts I need.”

Del. Ron Villanueva of Virginia Beach said, “Anytime you bring in jobs and help promote the state and locality, it’s worth looking at. We have to do our due diligence to make it a win-win situation.”

The $80 million in state funds sought to help the team move includes a $30 million relocation fee paid to the “governing league of professional sports franchise.” The NBA’s Seattle Supersonics paid a $30 million relocation fee to the NBA in 2008 when the team moved to Oklahoma City, according to published reports.

An NBA spokesman declined to comment on the league’s relocation fees. 

The city’s request also includes $8 million for corporate relocation costs and $42 million to cover estimated team losses while playing in a smaller venue in Virginia for two seasons while the arena is under construction. That venue has not been named. 

John Broderick, president of Old Dominion University, said neither he nor the school has been contacted about using the Ted Constant Convocation Center.

The city’s request for money went to the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, a state agency overseen by a board of directors appointed by the governor and the General Assembly. 

A spokesperson for the partnership said in an email that the group “does not comment on unannounced projects, speculated or otherwise. Any significant financial funding request would be vetted and measured to determine the benefit to Virginia tax-payers.”

Peter Luukko, president and chief operating officer for Comcast-Spectacor, is scheduled to give a presentation about the deal to the City Council on Tuesday. 

Sessoms said a vote on the arena by the City Council likely would be early next year. 

Pilot writer Harry Minium contributed to this report.

Aaron Applegate, 757-222-5122, aaron.applegate@pilotonline.com

For original article, click here.  

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