Hoops dream or 'pipe dream?' Mayor, UofL talk NBA in Louisville

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by Joe Arnold

WHAS11.com

Posted on July 31, 2012 at 6:45 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jul 31 at 7:01 PM

LOUISVILLE, Ky (WHAS11) -- As a "big league city," Louisville should prepare itself to land an NBA team and the University of Louisville should help, Mayor Greg Fischer told WHAS11 on Tuesday, the strongest statements from the mayor's office one decade after two failed attempts to lure a professional basketball franchise to the city.

"Anytime there's a chance for this city to grow, I'm going to seize that opportunity," Fischer said.  "I think that's what our citizens expect here. I know that when we're talking to people who are thinking about moving to this city, they expect that as well. And then of course we have an NBA ready arena right now, so that's a big difference."

Fischer echoed comments he first made last week at a Greater Louisville Inc breakfast, effectively sending a signal to the NBA - Louisville is open for their business.

"(Fischer) fully appreciates the concept and I think he is going to be very helpful in helping this to accomplish this," said J. Bruce Miller, the Louisville attorney who negotiated with the Vancouver Grizzlies and Charlotte Hornets, only for both deals to fall apart at the last minute.

"I think that (Louisville's chances) are just like they always were," Miller said in an interview at his downtown law office. "I don't think anything's changed except we have an arena that is in dire need of dates and we have a mayor who understands that, and who is a business person and who's willing to step forward."

"I don't want to create any high expectations," Fischer cautioned. "There's no team on the horizon." 

The renewed desire for an NBA team is linked to the financing of the KFC Yum! Center.  Revenues generated by businesses in the Tax Increment Financing district surrounding the arena have not met projections.  More bookings and higher attendance at the venue would boost that revenue

"You cannot retire a $350 million bond with a University," Miller said, "It just won't work."

"We've all seen the great impact the arena has had on downtown," Fischer said, "Now, we have to make that work financially and part of that is getting more nights in the arena.  You pull in an NBA team with 40 plus nights, that really helps out quite a bit."

"We're a big league city, we should think like a big league city," Fischer added, "If an opportunity becomes available we want to be in a position to win."

The mayor's comments are also a signal to the University of Louisville, which controls the arena's scheduling, branding and virtually every revenue stream generated by the KFC Yum Center.

"Any NBA team that would want to come to town would want to be at the Yum Center," Fischer told WHAS11.  "U of L controls that through their lease.  Obviously, they would have to be part of the conversation, part of the solution as well."

The university, however, appears reluctant to change lease terms to accommodate the NBA quest.

"That's too premature," U of L President told WHAS11 News.  "Louisville has been chasing that pipe dream of an NBA team for years and we thought we had the Grizzlies out of Vancouver, we thought we had the Bobcats out of Charlotte.  And, so it's conversation at this point. I'm not aware that the NBA is ready to expand."

Ramsey added that he is certain that there is always an NBA team that wants to play one city off another.

Yet, Ramsey was pressed if the university would be willing to renegotiate its arena lease if the move of an NBA franchise was contingent upon that change.

"If we get to that point, we'll cross that bridge," Ramsey said.  "We made a key University decision to come downtown.  The best thing for the University would have been to have that facility on campus.  The YUM center has turned out better than we ever thought.  We understand that it's had financial problems, but they are addressing those.  The Arena Authority has changed management.  The consultant's study was pretty clear: they didn't need 55 employees or however many they had.  So, we need to let that play out.  And it's way too early."

In a June statement, the U of L Athletic Association (ULAA) Board of Directors said "The ULAA cannot afford to renegotiate a contract that is not even two years old."

"I believe there is five college teams that share an arena with an NBA team already," Fischer explained, "So, it's something that can be worked out.  U of L - if all of this came to transpire - U of L is a great community citizen.  They would be at the table. We would have to figure it out together."

"I think the University is going to be a good citizen when the time comes," Miller added.

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