Charlotte to vote on $27.5m in upgrades to NBA’s 3rd-newest building, because NOT NEW ENOUGH, DAMMIT

The city of Charlotte is asking the city council to approve $27.5 million in upgrades to the Hornets‘ nine-year-old arena — the NBA’s third-newest building — on the grounds that hey, it could have been worse:

In March, the Hornets asked the city to also spend roughly $6 million to renovate suites and $600,000 to refurbish the Hornets’ locker room.

Deputy City Manager Ron Kimble said the city pushed back against spending taxpayer dollars on those expenses, even though he said the team could have had a legal case that those particular upgrades are part of the 25-year operating agreement.

“The city didn’t want to pay for home team locker rooms and suite improvements,” Kimble said. “We want to fund (improvements) that the everyday fan can enjoy.”

The problem is that in exchange for the Hornets (then Bobcats) owners agreeing to severe penalties for breaking their lease and going elsewhere, as the old Hornets (now Pelicans) did when they bolted for New Orleans, Charlotte agreed to a lease clause that requires the city to keep the arena among the NBA’s most modern — which is effectively a blank check for the Hornets to bill the city for anything that the guy down the road has in his arena.

Kimble told council members he believes the city could not spend any less.

“I feel like this is the lowest amount (we could spend) under the contract,” he said.

All together now: Friends don’t let friends sign state-of-the-art clauses.

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6 comments on “Charlotte to vote on $27.5m in upgrades to NBA’s 3rd-newest building, because NOT NEW ENOUGH, DAMMIT

  1. Maybe this wouldn’t keep happening if politicians realized that they are pretty much inconsequential. By which I mean if a team doesn’t get their way and they do actually leave, locals don’t tend to blame the politicians. People in Houston hated Bud Adams. People in Cleveland still apparently hate Art Modell*.

    Now if you a local pol an opponent might bludgeon you with it in the next election but A) if you can’t turn that into more police and better schools as a rebuttal you probably deserve to lose and B) eventually nobody is going to care or remember that the team left on your watch.

    So, as a PSI, if you’re in office, don’t negotiate from a position of fear.

    * Local perception might be different but I have no idea who any of the public folks in Cleveland were at the time. I do remember that Lanier was the mayor of Houston but only because I was living nearby at the time and that he did tell Adams basically “I’ve got police and fireman and teachers that need money before you do, so there’s the door.”

  2. Michael: The sad postscript to both stories (Cleveland/Houston) is that each city eventually spent far more on replacement teams/venues than they were being asked/blackmailed for at the time their original (or in Cleveland’s case, last replacement) teams left. I really don’t recall what the city spent on Reliant, but it can’t have been cheap.

    On the upside, as we know from St. Louis et al, had the cities given away the farm in the mid nineties to ‘save’ their teams, they would almost certainly be under extortion again by now…. possibly for even more money than they spent 15 years ago to win an expansion team.

  3. “I really don’t recall what the city spent on Reliant, but it can’t have been cheap.”

    It’s a fair amount cobbled together from a variety of taxes. I know that at one point Houston had the highest hotel bed tax in the nation and at least part of that was Reliant (along with maybe MMP and the Toyota Center). The beautiful part of it is that Texans owner McNair was totally happy to take hundreds of millions in public money for his playtoy, but he is one of, if not the, largest political donor among NFL owners. And his donations are almost exclusively to Republicans who are hardcore “taxing the rich will kill American job creator” types.


  4. Michael,

    Good comment. I think the important thing is to show what the opportunity costs are for ballpark/arena funding. If they’re talking about spending $50 million, ask what the municipality could do with that much money. Are they short on police? Could the schools use an upgrade? Do the streets have lots of potholes? $50 million is a hell of a lot of money that could do a lot. If you spend that on a sports venue, you simply can’t spend it on something else the city needs. Given how cash-strapped most cities are, this is a powerful argument.

  5. As far as Indianapolis is concerned extortion still works. Indianapolis isn’t maintaining the infrastructure, e.g. streets and sidewalks are in severe need of repair and yet the Pacers are now subsidized for the maintenance of a building that the taxpayers built. The taxpayers now pay that maintenance to the tune of 10 million dollars per year. Even though the Pacers contract with the city had extreme penalties should they leave the “brain trust” at the CIB reopened their contract and gifted the Pacers with 10 million per year plus another 3-4 million for improvements. That contract change occured three years ago and total cost was about 33.5 million but that was just the opener their new contract calls for 160 million over ten years. Not a bad deal for a billionaire team owner who get all of the revenue from the building, all of the parking, all off the concessions, all of the signage and none of the payments.

    The new Pacers contract may be found here;

  6. There’s a simple way to put an end to the blackmail.
    Just say NO and make ’em sweat.
    Of course the sheepeople would cry YES! YES! We want our fix! Bahhh, Bahhh, Bahhh…

    BTW – Check out the scummy treatment of New Britain by minor league owners.

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