OKC's NBA hopes up to voters

Wednesday, January 2nd 2008, 8:12 pm
By: News 9

By Alex Cameron, NEWS 9

Oklahoma City's hope of landing an NBA franchise is now in the hands of its voters.

On Wednesday, city council set an election for March 4th that could very well determine whether the NBA approves a request by the owners of the Seattle SuperSonics to move their team here.

Oklahoma City council agreed to give voters the chance to say 'yes' or 'no' to a proposal to extend the one-penny sales tax that's currently helping pay for MAPS for Kids. The tax would extend for 15 months to pay for a significant upgrade and expansion of the Ford Center, as well as, a new NBA practice facility.

Proposed changes to the Ford Center, including an almost 200,000 square foot expansion on the building's southwest corner, were explained to council members this morning. Changes include some items specific to the NBA, like a new locker room complex. 

Design Consultant Don Dethlefs says most items are aimed at making the Ford Center more fan-friendly.

"It will have more revenue sources to support an NBA team, but more amenities for the fans, improved concessions, improved restrooms, just more square footage for movement, just a lot more amenities," Dethlefs said. 

In addition to the improvements to the Ford Center, the sales tax would also be used to pay for a stand-alone practice facility for the team.

"Building this practice facility and giving it to an NBA team is just giving it to them on a silver platter," said Ward 2 Councilman Sam Bowman.

Others, like Ward 4 Councilman Pete White, were unhappy with the lack of time they had to consider such an important issue.

"I resent being asked to do this today with as little information as we've been given," White said.

Still, the measure passed unanimously.

Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett said the right choice was made and that was letting the people decide.

"I thought at the end of the day we did the responsible thing, we're gonna allow the citizens to have a vote that I think'll be portrayed, either thumbs up or thumbs down, do we want to pursue an NBA team or do we not want to pursue an NBA team," Cornett said.

There were two options facing the council today. The one they approved, if approved by voters, would first extend the penny sales tax 12 months. That would raise close to $100 million to pay for the improvements to the Ford Center. Then, if there's an agreement for an NBA team to come here, the tax would extend another three months to raise another 20 million to pay for the practice facility, $121 million total cost.

If these improvements are made to the Ford Center, it would be on par with most other NBA arenas, and would mean citizens would not be asked to pay for a brand new arena anytime in the near future.