Bobcats ask Charlotte for $34.1 million to upgrade NBA’s third-newest arena

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In 2001, Charlotte voters rejected a proposal to use public money on a new basketball arena.

In 2002, the Hornets moved to new Orleans.

That obviously wasn’t a coincidence. Across the country, professional sports teams hold cities hostage, seeking public welfare for a very private enterprise. Until cities routinely say no, teams will keep requesting – and usually getting – what they want. In Charlotte, that meant the Bobcats got a $265 million area in 2005.

So, why wouldn’t the Bobcats ask for $34.1 million more from the city to upgrade their arena?

Who cares whether they’re playing in the NBA’s third-newest arena (behind only Brooklyn and Orlando)? Who cares whether the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, which operates the arena’s “’back of the house’ functions such as HVAC,” is already requesting $7.8 million from the city? Who cares whether the Bobcats rank 25th in the NBA in both per-game and percentage-of-capacity?

Let’s tax many to benefit a few. And by a few, I really mean a few.

According to Steve Harrison of The Charlotte Observer, in the next four years, the Bobcats want:

$1.27 million for “event-level” restaurant refurbishment

$1.3 million for HD broadcast infrastructure

$1.42 million to move the ticket office

$1.6 million to improve hospitality space

$2.3 million to remake the Founders Level restaurant

$2.5 million for floor repairs

$2.5 million for a youth activity area in the upper concourse

$3.5 million for “exterior digital equipment”

$5.9 million to improve suites

$7.7 million for “scoring and video equipment update

If it seems those upgrades are geared toward the Bobcats’ premium ticket holders, it’s because they probably are. That’s how these things always work.

Even the projects that could benefit everyone who patronizes the arena – possibly like moving the ticket office – seem superfluous. Is it really necessary to spend $1.42 million of taxpayer money to move the ticket office?

Maybe. The Bobcats must submit justifications for each project, and they’re in the process of doing so.

According to Harrison:

The lease calls for the city to make improvements to the building to keep it among the most modern in the NBA, to ensure the team can “maintain economic competitiveness and revenue potential.”

But there will likely be negotiations between the team and the city as to what is needed and what isn’t, and what the city is obligated to pay for, said Deputy City Manager Ron Kimble.

The 25-year lease also gives Charlotte a good deal of leverage, binding the team’s owners to keep it in Charlotte. The city is well-positioned to tell the Bobcats these costs are too high and that Michael Jordan should some expenses on himself if he wants these upgrades. Logic points to that $34.1 million figure being reduced once both sides negotiate.

The way these processes usually unfold, though, the city will end up spending $50 million to appease the Bobcats.