December 12, 2012

Arena plan clings to life in Virginia

Virginia Beach will continue wooing the Sacramento Kings – and worry about the state of Virginia later.

Virginia Beach will continue wooing the Sacramento Kings – and worry about the state of Virginia later.

The Virginia Beach City Council voted 9-2 on Tuesday to continue negotiations on a new NBA arena, even though its request for a state subsidy has been turned down by the governor for now.

Urging council members to go forward with the project, Mayor Will Sessoms said the city should wrap up negotiations with arena developer Comcast-Spectacor and then "use our horsepower" to sell the state on a $150 million subsidy. The council's vote is nonbinding but moves the project forward.

He wants a term sheet with Comcast-Spectacor done before the Legislature convenes in January.

Last week, Gov. Bob McDonnell said he wouldn't include the subsidy in his 2013 budget proposal. But Sessoms said that just means the governor and the Legislature need more information to be sold on the plan.

Without the subsidy, which covers about one-third of the $426 million project, the deal is likely dead.

That would close one option for the Kings' owners, the Maloofs, as they contemplate the team's future. The Maloofs abandoned a tentative deal last spring for a new arena in Sacramento.

The Maloofs haven't confirmed they're discussing a move to Virginia, and city officials and Comcast-Spectacor have refused to disclose the identity of the team.

But the Maloofs' interest in Virginia Beach has been widely reported. The packet of materials distributed to the City Council this week by the city manager included a recent Bee story on the Kings and Virginia Beach.

The resolution passed by the council Tuesday originally directed city staff to continue talking with Comcast-Spectacor about an NBA team or a National Hockey League team. That was amended at the last minute to limit discussions to an NBA team.

Most council members said the outlines of the proposal remain sketchy, but they didn't want to shut the deal down.

"It would be very wrong to close that door without finding out more information," said Councilwoman Rosemary Wilson.

But Councilmen John Moss and Bill DeSteph, who voted no, said they were bothered that more than 90 percent of the project would be publicly funded as the deal is currently constructed.

Moss also said, based on his talks with legislators, that securing a state subsidy is "not impossible, but the odds are not in our favor."

The mayor, responding to the criticism that the plan leans too heavily on public sources, said "we're going to try to get more private money" in the deal.

The council's vote is a nonbinding endorsement of the current framework for the deal, under which the city would contribute $241 million and Comcast-Spectacor would put in $35 million. The state's portion would include $70 million for the arena and $80 million for relocation expenses.

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