Virginia Beach mayor sets deadline on luring NBA team

01/04/2013 12:00 AM

01/06/2013 12:28 PM

Throwing down the gauntlet, Virginia Beach's mayor has set a Monday deadline to have a lease signed with a professional sports team – widely reported to be the Sacramento Kings – or he'll pull the plug on the city's arena efforts for this year.

Mayor Will Sessoms, who has been pushing a plan for a $300 million-plus arena in his city, told The Bee he has informed the city's private partner, arena operator Comcast-Spectacor, he wants an agreement now.

"We have a timeline that is right upon us to go to the state to ask for a substantial amount of money," Sessoms said. "We are not going to go up there and make a fool of ourselves. I need to know something by Monday.

"I don't want to be wasting people's time or my time if we are not going to bring some conclusion to these negotiations quickly."

Officials in the Virginia city say two state General Assembly representatives are prepared to request $150 million in state funds to help to build the arena when the Assembly reconvenes Wednesday – but only if Comcast reaches a deal with the team.

A staff member for state Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, said Richmond officials are awaiting word from Comcast and Sessoms.

State Delegate Ron Villanueva, R-Virginia Beach, also was noncommittal, telling The Bee this week he is waiting for definitive word on whether the arena proposal will go forward.

"Your guess is as good as mine," Villanueva said. "Is the team staying put, or moving? Everybody is in a wait-and-see pattern."

A Comcast representative declined comment Thursday.

Representatives of the Kings did not return calls from The Bee on Thursday. The Kings have repeatedly declined to comment on the speculation that they are the team in play. Spokesman Eric Rose has acknowledged, however, that Kings' representatives have been in contact with several cities interesting in luring the team.

The Kings attempted to move to Anaheim in 2011 but were persuaded by NBA officials at the last minute to stay in Sacramento and participate in a new effort to build a downtown arena here. The Maloofs, who own the Kings, backed out of that deal last spring, and have refused since then to publicly discuss the team's long-term future.

Virginia Beach Mayor Sessoms said he still thinks an arena deal can be made in his city but said it's reached the do-or-die moment.

The Virginia state General Assembly is in session only from next week until the third week of February. State funding requests need to be made in the next two weeks.

A second deadline looms just after that. The National Basketball Association generally requires teams to request permission by March 1 to relocate to a new city that year. The league has in the past extended that deadline.

Sessoms said on Thursday he believes Virginia Beach and the team will get a favorable hearing from the NBA board of governors if the team makes a relocation request next month.

"Peter Luukko (president of Comcast) used to be on the board of the NBA (as former owner of the Philadelphia 76ers), and he's given me a great comfort level that he can work with the commissioner," Sessoms said.

Sessoms said he plans to talk again with Luukko on Monday. He said he is confident the city, for its part, can handle its part of the deal, including winning state support.

"We have the table set," he said. "I feel like we can deliver what we offered to Comcast."

Sessoms said he did not know what issues were still outstanding between the team and Comcast.

He said if a deal doesn't come together next week, the city could revive its efforts next year.

"I am convinced we can handle a professional sports team," he said. "One day, we are going to have one regardless of what happens with this sports team."


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