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Fowler: Hornets pull out all the stops for All-Star game bid

Scott Fowler is a national award-winning sports columnist for The Charlotte Observer.
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David T. Foster, III - dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com
Hugo, the Charlotte Hornets mascot, gestures toward a monitor prior to the playing of a video presentation during a press conference announcing a plan for the Charlotte Hornets to formally submit a bid to host either the 2017 or 2018 NBA All-Star Weekend, at Time Warner Cable Arena on Tuesday, August 12, 2014.

The Charlotte Hornets want to host an NBA All-Star Game, and they made as big a splash as possible to announce that Tuesday. There was a news conference and a podium crowded with men in power ties and a charter plane ready to whisk a half-dozen of them – along with mascot Hugo – to New York to hand-deliver the bid package.

Was all that really necessary? No. The bid could have been FedEx-ed. And it couldn’t have been an easy flight. There’s no way Hugo’s head fit into an overhead bin.

But is the idea a good one?

Absolutely.

Put aside the thorny issue of arena upgrades for a second and understand this. If you build a big-time arena, like Charlotte has, you have to bid on things like the 2017 or 2018 NBA All-Star Game. Yes, no one plays defense during the All-Star Game and the weekend basically is an excuse to celebrate millionaire basketball players who don’t need any more attention with a monstrous basketball party every February.

But that party now goes on for almost a week. It provides thousands of hotel-room nights and millions of dollars in local economic impact. It’s not the Democratic or Republican National Convention or the Final Four, but it’s within a 3-pointer of all of them.

I think Charlotte – which last hosted this NBA showcase in 1991 – is going to get one of these All-Star Games and trot out Hornets owner Michael Jordan as its lovable, trash-talking host. It will happen in 2017 or 2018 or sometime in the next round of bids.

But NBA Commissioner Adam Silver also has made it very clear that the arena has to be upgraded for it to happen.

So then you get into the finances. The Hornets would like to see “$42-43 million” in improvements, according to team president Fred Whitfield. The city is not going to go along with all of that request, nor should it.

Because how does Time Warner Cable Arena already need $42 million in upgrades, anyway? The arena only cost $265 million to begin with, and it opened in 2005.

To put it into more recognizable terms, let’s say you bought a new car for $26,500 in 2005 and you’ve been doing regular oil changes. You wouldn’t be too happy if you got a $4,200 repair bill in 2014.

So the tricky business of negotiating what is really necessary to improve the arena and what is simply a wish list has only begun.

But here’s the thing. Under lease terms between the city and the Hornets, who manage the publicly funded arena, a lot of these improvements are going to have to happen anyway. Scoreboard, lighting, suites, infrastructure – eventually it almost all will need to be “refreshed,” to use Whitfield’s word.

Is an NBA All-Star Game worth $42 million in upgrades all by itself? No way.

But the arena hosts more than 150 events a year – including the Hornets’ and Charlotte Checkers’ home games, a long weekend’s worth of NCAA tournament games in 2015 and the ACC men’s basketball tournament in 2019. So it’s not just about one All-Star Game.

And most of that money is going to be paid out anyway under those lease terms. If you are the city, you might as well smile while you are writing the check and get a showcase event out of it, too.

The Hornets believe eight-10 cities ultimately will bid for these All-Star Games, with that list being winnowed to three or four this fall and then the final two in the fall of 2015.

“We are sincere,” Whitfield said, “and we are ready.”

I think both of those things are true – and that ultimately, an All-Star Game will land in Charlotte once again.

Fowler: sfowler@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @scott_fowler
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