The mayor of Virginia Beach, Va., Will Sessoms, said the city must know by today whether the NBA team targeted to anchor a proposed arena has reached an agreement with the company that would operate the facility. Otherwise, he may drop the arena plan.
The Sacramento Kings are rumored to be the team that Comcast-Spectacor, a sports and entertainment company, is trying to lure to Virginia Beach in return for a free arena.
Sessoms said he wanted a commitment before he goes to the state General Assembly and asks for $150 million to help build an 18,500-seat arena estimated to cost $426 million. The deal calls for the city to put up $241 million and Comcast to add $35 million. The team would fork over little to nothing.
The governor of Virginia has called the expenditure of public funds a waste of money because an arena would provide little economic return to the state. He refused to include $150 million in his budget plan.
I assume the deadline-demanding Sessoms is familiar with Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson’s embarrassing failure to wring a deadline deal out of the Maloofs. Although Johnson has accused the co-owners of the Kings of backing out a deal last March to build a downtown arena, it’s pretty clear there never was a deal. Even the Sacramento Bee, which has adopted Johnson’ spin on the negotiations, ran a story in April headlined “a deal that really wasn’t.”
In my view, Johnson announced a deal because he thought he could use public pressure to get the Maloofs to accept an agreement that didn’t give them every penny they wanted. Alas, he was painfully wrong. He was dealing with astute businessmen with an eye on their bottom line.
Sessoms must know the Maloofs won’t commit to an arena plan in Virginia Beach before a financing plan is established. Why would they give up their leverage?
No, Sessoms went out on a limb with his arena plan and is looking for a face-saving escape. Neil deMause, co-author of Field of Schemes and a blog of that name, sounds right in theorizing that Sessoms set a ridiculous deadline “so that when the arena deal crashes and burns even more than it has already, he can blame Comcast for not getting a team instead of himself for not having any idea how to pay for the damn thing.”
The Maloofs won’t commit to anything until they get exactly what they want. They’re skilled at playing the public financing game. Too bad their team doesn’t play basketball at the same level.