José Luis Villegas / Bee file, 2012

Kings co-owners Gavin, left, and Joe Maloof are attached to Sacramento, but they're unsure how to bridge the emotional and financial gap between their family and the community.

As Virginia Beach makes push to lure a team, Sacramento mayor frustrated with Maloofs

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Friday, Dec. 28, 2012 - 12:13 pm

As upbeat Virginia Beach officials on Tuesday pushed forward with their effort to land an unnamed professional sports team – widely believed to be the Kings – Sacramento's mayor lamented that he once again has that helpless feeling of watching "a slow death."

Mayor Kevin Johnson, a former NBA star credited with helping keep the team in town after Kings tried to bolt to Anaheim in 2011, saw his plan for a downtown Sacramento arena deal rejected by the team six months ago. Negotiations have not resumed.

Johnson told The Bee on Tuesday that Sacramento deserves better than to be left hanging.

"I don't like not being able to fight and not being able to determine the outcome," he said. "The Kings and the owners have to want to be here."

Kings representatives have repeatedly declined to confirm or deny that they are negotiating with the Virginia city but acknowledge they've been contacted by several cities interested in wooing them since arena talks broke down here.

Sacramento's mayor said he thinks that could be a mistake by the team. NBA officials and owners, who must approve any move, strongly supported recent efforts to build a new arena in Sacramento.

"If they believe they need to look at their options in Seattle and Virginia Beach, then there's nothing we as a community or I as a mayor can do to prevent that," Johnson said. "But I've said it all along: I don't think the grass is greener anywhere else but Sacramento."

Johnson said the financing plan for a downtown arena crafted earlier this year is still on the table.

"The door is still open, there's a deal to be had downtown," he said.

Officials in Virginia Beach on Tuesday told the City Council there that negotiations are ongoing with a professional sports team, and indicated both the team and a private partner, Comcast-Spectacor of Philadelphia, would like to have a deal far enough along for the team to apply to its league next year for approval to relocate.

The National Basketball Association typically requires teams to submit a relocation request to the league by March 1 of the year the team wishes to move.

The negotiations between Comcast and the unnamed team involve a confidentiality pledge, Comcast President Peter Luukko said.

"We're negotiating hard," Luukko said. "We're making progress. But we are not there yet. We have a ways to go, but every day is a better day."

The Virginia Beach council is expected to be asked to vote next week to give city staff and Comcast-Spectacor its preliminary support for the direction the deal is headed.

The $300 million deal does not appear to require the team to lay out any money to help build the arena. The city, the state and Comcast-Spectacor would provide the bulk of the funding. Some of it would come from increased hotel taxes and ticket surcharges.

The city has asked the state to pay for the team's league-required relocation fee, potentially in the $30 million range, and to pay the team $42 million to compensate it for playing the first two years in a smaller facility while the new arena is being built.

The Virginia Beach deal, however, appears far from done.

Statehouse officials have not formally debated the proposal. Comcast-Spectacor officials indicated they have not yet agreed to provide the $35 million the city is requesting of them as part of the funding deal. And one council member on Tuesday said the deal's numbers don't add up to him.

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