Officials of the Charlotte Hornets, including their mascot, Hugo, flew to New York with a delegation of community leaders Tuesday to formally bid for an NBA All-Star Game.
But they’ll need an assist from the city in the form of millions in taxpayer-funded upgrades to Time Warner Cable Arena.
Boosters hope to bring the city its first NBA All-Star Game since 1991, when Hornets owner Michael Jordan was a Chicago Bull and scored a game-high 26 points at the old Charlotte Coliseum.
Charlotte is competing with up to 10 cities to land the 2017 or 2018 game, which backers say would bring worldwide media coverage and millions of dollars in economic impact.
The NBA is expected to narrow the list this fall and make its final decision in 2015.
The league’s top official has said the city needs to upgrade the 9-year-old arena in order to get the game. Deputy City Manager Ron Kimble said the city aims to unveil a plan within a month.
He said the upgrades would not be paid for from a property tax increase but with revenues from rental car taxes and hotel/motel taxes.
City has changed
Kimble joined Hornets President Fred Whitfield, announcer Dell Curry and leaders of the Charlotte Sports Foundation in announcing the bid. Standing behind a lectern decked out with an “All-Star Charlotte” logo, they touted the benefits of the game, which now comes with a weeklong package of events.
“It will once again put our city on the international stage,” said Johnny Harris, chairman of the foundation.
The bid package includes a video montage of other events the city has hosted, including the 2012 Democratic National Convention, golf tournaments and college and pro football games.
It’s come a long way since 1994, when the city marked the NCAA Final Four with a “Street of Champions” that featured temporary bars and restaurants on a much less vibrant Tryon Street.
“The changes in our city since hosting the All-Star Game in 1991 are almost mind-boggling,” Harris said.
Asked last month about Charlotte hosting another All-Star Game, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said he’d be “very excited” about the prospect, under certain conditions.
“What I said last time I was in Charlotte is there needed to be some improvements to the building,” he told the Observer. “I know there have been some discussions about some upgrades to the facility, to the suites, to the concourse, to the back-of-house room. I think some of those things would be required.”
Cost may fall
In March, the team and the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority gave the city a $42 million list of requested improvements to the city-owned arena. The list included suite improvements, restaurant renovations and moving the ticket office.
The request came less than a year after the City Council voted to give $87.5 million for stadium improvements for the Carolina Panthers.
Kimble suggested the final figure for the arena would be less than $42 million when he makes a recommendation to council.
“Where we are now is not at that level,” he said.
Kimble emphasized that the arena hosts more than the Hornets. There are, he said, more than 150 events held in the arena every year.
“And all of those events will benefit from whatever improvements we are contractually obligated to make,” he said.
The city paid for and owns the building. The CRVA operates “back of the house” functions such as HVAC, and is reimbursed for those services by the Hornets.
The Hornets are not only the main tenant, but operate the building as well. They book other events, such as concerts, and are allowed to keep operating profits but must also absorb losses if they don’t have enough events.
The $87.5 million the city gave the Panthers for improvements to Bank of America Stadium came from the city’s Convention Center fund, which is supported by a hotel/motel tax and a prepared food and beverage tax. In return, the team agreed to a six-year “tether” to keep the team in Charlotte.
Jordan was not at Tuesday morning’s news conference to kick off the All-Star Game bid. Whitfield, the Hornets’ president, said Jordan was “just finishing up” hosting a basketball camp in California.
Neither Whitfield or Kimble would say whether the team plans to contribute to the renovations. Whitfield called it “an ongoing conversation.”
“We just want to make sure we do the right thing as partners,” he said.