August 28, 2012

Kings a subplot in Virginia Beach arena discussion

This seaside resort city finds out today how realistic its NBA dreams really are.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – This seaside resort city finds out today how realistic its NBA dreams really are.

The City Council will hear a plan this afternoon by sports and entertainment firm Comcast-Spectacor to construct an 18,000-seat arena just a few blocks from the Atlantic Ocean – a plan that some have speculated could make the Sacramento Kings a candidate for a cross-country relocation.

Kings officials have declined to address those reports directly, and officials here have refused to identify which major league sports franchise is being considered as a tenant for the arena.

But with the Kings' arena situation in Sacramento still unsettled, the team has been a focus of the press coverage surrounding the Virginia Beach arena plan. Some local media outlets have quoted sources saying the franchise is a target.

Very little is known about the plan, besides that it involves building an arena next to the Virginia Beach Convention Center to house an NBA or National Hockey League team. City officials have been in talks with Comcast-Spectacor for weeks, but the plan's existence became known only within the past few days.

Comcast-Spectacor is based in Philadelphia and owns that city's Flyers of the NHL.

The company also owns the Wells Fargo Center, the arena in which the Flyers and the NBA's 76ers play.

Also involved in the plan are Global Spectrum, a subsidiary of Comcast that manages entertainment venues, and Live Nation, an entertainment company.

A spokesman for Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has told local media outlets the governor supports the effort to bring a major league franchise to the region, which he said would spark economic growth.

But local elected officials who have not seen the plan are already expressing caution.

"If they're coming to tell us they're using their own money, I'm ecstatic," said Virginia Beach Councilman John Moss. "But if they want free land or any other money, I'm not the least bit interested. We don't build putt-putt golf, we don't build movie theaters, we don't build bowling alleys. That's the business of the private sector."

Moss added he thinks the arena proponents will have a difficult time persuading a majority of the 11-member council to support the plan if it involves public assistance.

"I think (the region) could support a pro sports team; I just don't know if it would make sense for us," said Councilman James Wood. "These projects require a pretty healthy public subsidy, and I just don't know that Virginia Beach is ready to step up and do that."

Still, Wood said he is intrigued.

Major league sports are "probably something we're missing in this market," he said. "There's a lot of potential. I just don't know if the money is going to work, if the juice is worth the squeeze."

Virginia Beach and the surrounding Hampton Roads region is home to almost 1.7 million people.

That's smaller than the Sacramento region but larger than five existing NBA markets.

The area has flirted with the NBA in the past; the owner of the Charlotte Hornets considered moving that franchise to neighboring Norfolk in 2001 before a more lucrative arena deal in New Orleans drew the team to Louisiana.

Pro basketball has been played here. The Virginia Squires of the former American Basketball Association played in Norfolk before folding in 1976.

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