From the Journal Record:

Cornett points to virtues of luring SonicsJanuary 9, 2008 OKLAHOMA CITY –

The value of an NBA team to a city is nearly impossible to quantify, officials in Oklahoma City and other communities said.“People don’t have much of an image of Oklahoma City in other parts of the country, and that plays into our ability to create jobs and create economic development,” Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett said ahead of the March 4 public election. “An NBA franchise can do wonders for your image nationwide. Now that’s hard to put a dollar figure on, and I don’t gravitate toward it much because it’s just not that tangible. But I believe it’s very real.”

Cornett and the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, which will head the campaign, have less than two months to convince voters to commit to a 1-cent, 15-month sales tax. The approximately $120 million it would raise would fund massive changes at the Ford Center downtown, adding public rooms, business offices and team warm-up areas, and upgrading the complex to support additional restaurants and business.The goal is to make the arena NBA-worthy so that the league’s board of governors will be more likely to allow Oklahoma City businessman Clay Bennett to move the SuperSonics team from its current home in Seattle. If the sales tax passes but the NBA doesn’t allow the team’s relocation, the tax would shrink by three months to fund upgrades the arena needs anyway, city officials said.City council members unanimously agreed to allow a public vote, but some withheld their final approval on the issue until securing more information about lease contracts and revenue streams.Cornett said he will support the issue in public because he believes in the arena’s inherent value to the city, although city funds will not be used in the campaign. The arena upgrades would be a natural extension of the successes of Metropolitan Area Projects and MAPS for Kids city development sales tax issues, he said.“I think this is a logical next step for the city of Oklahoma City,” he said. “We’re trying to create a city where people want to live and visit. We’re trying to create a city where the next generation will go off to college and come back and raise their families. And this is all part of that big-picture perspective of creating a city where people want to live and people want to visit.”

Even though the city would own the arena itself, some citizens have balked on specific dollar figures and tangible benefits. Cornett said residents need to consider the bigger picture. “Look at the city of Charlotte and the 20 years since they were granted an NBA franchise. How many jobs were created? How much economic development has occurred in that city? It’s been extraordinary,” he said. “And I don’t know if the NBA was a cause or effect, but if you’re looking for other models around the country, at cities that have just blossomed since a major league franchise has come to town, I think they’re a great example.”Charlotte was home for 14 years to the Hornets, and later the Bobcats expansion team. The Hornets moved to New Orleans in 2002 after failed arena negotiations. Charlotte lacked an NBA team for about two years until the city built a new, $265 million arena.

Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory said his city is booming and he could not pinpoint the specific economic effect caused by the NBA’s absence, but the empty building itself proved to be an economic liability. The franchise provided an anchor tenant to the city’s main entertainment facility in much the same way a big retailer anchors a shopping mall. Without a major tenant, the entire complex fails and the city’s financial resource is wasted, he said.“You can’t live off concerts and minor league sports,” McCrory said. “You need a major tenant to help pay the bills.“But what’s happened since we’ve had an arena downtown is that we’ve had a (business) boom around the arena. And we think the arena has been part of the reason for that boom, along with many other things. We’ve got major retail and condominiums being built right next door,” he said.“This is part of a total package, which brands your city and helps create jobs and entertainment value, which is also a recruitment tool we use.”

Bob Caporale, the chairman of Game Plan LLC, also cited the value of attaching a major league name to a city for economic development reasons. Game Plan provides consulting, financial advisory and investment banking services in the acquisition, sale and financing of professional sports teams and the development and financing of sports facilities.Game Plan’s client is SMG, a Philadelphia-based company that manages the Ford Center and more than 200 public assembly facilities nationwide, including arenas, stadiums, performing arts theaters and convention and trade centers. Although the company does not represent the city of Oklahoma City, Cornett said officials sometimes rely on Caporale’s experience in the industry to provide perspective.“The team itself will have a budget that could be close to $100 million, and those dollars will be spent primarily in the local area,” Caporale said. “And from the business of games being played, it obviously generates substantial additional revenue in and around the facility. … So you get a real ripple effect around the facility and in the community.”

Cornett said he would have preferred to keep the arena issue as part of a larger MAPS-3 initiative later this year, but officials had to act on a rushed deadline. Past MAPS research revealed that most of the individual development projects of that tax issue would have failed separately; taken together as one package they supported each other on the ballot. “This will be the toughest thing we’ve had to pass, and that’s because it will be by itself,” Cornett said. “But the timing wasn’t ours. We were not going to get an NBA franchise if we didn’t improve the Ford Center and prove to the NBA that we’re serious for the long-term about getting a team here.”

Susan Burgess, the mayor pro-tem of Charlotte, warned elected officials of the backlash from pushing too hard. When asked to support a new arena, Charlotte voters overwhelmingly voted against the issue, she said, but the city council approved the use of hotel sales tax funds in a separate action anyway. That left a bad feeling in the community and the Bobcats haven’t won nearly the support the team deserves, she said.“Because of the way it was built, it has not been as successful as it might have been,” she said. “And (owner) Bob Johnson and the Bobcats are paying for the displeasure of the people of Charlotte and city council ignoring the people’s referendum.”When the Hornets first came to town, every game was a sell-out, she said, and the community clearly benefited. The second team has had to struggle, Burgess said – “So when you ask the people for their opinion, you should respect it.”“But back in 1986, the Hornets definitely put us on the map.”