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The Virginian - Pilot (Norfolk, VA.)
Could the Virginia Beach arena one day be the home of an NBA team?
It's not out of the question.
"It doesn't look great for Virginia Beach to land an NBA team, but it wouldn't be impossible," said longtime NBA writer Chris Tomasson, formerly of the Akron Beacon Journal and the Rocky Mountain News.
"Remember that in 1987, a sports columnist wrote, 'The only franchise Charlotte will receive is one with golden arches.' And Charlotte then landed the Hornets," Tomasson said.
Another person to ask was a well-known NBA writer for ESPN who on his Twitter profile lists his location as "an arena, hotel or airplane."
"I have not heard anything about Virginia Beach," Brian Windhorst said. "There are relatively new franchises - Oklahoma City, Memphis and New Orleans - so I wouldn't say it's impossible in a market of that size. But I haven't heard anything in that regard."
So what would it take for Virginia Beach to become associated with the Association?
"The first thing a city needs is a new, revenue-guaranteeing arena and corporate sponsors assuring a season ticket base," Windhorst said. "Not plans. Not promises. Earth movers and rising steel."
Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms, during his State of the City address Wednesday, announced the city had approved the loan commitment Beach-based developer United States Management delivered for the proposed $220 million, 18,000-seat sports and entertainment arena.
If the developer closes on the bank loans in the next six months, after so many plans and promises, earth will move and steel will rise, with the arena expected to be ready in 2019.
"The second thing they need is an ownership group that would be willing to put up the expansion fee," Windhorst said. "It's impossible to project what that fee would be. The last two NBA teams sold for $2 billion (the Los Angeles Clippers, in 2014) and $850 million (the Atlanta Hawks, in 2015). So likely in between there.
"Those two things are very hard to achieve. Right now, no city is known to have both. Seattle has an ownership group but has failed to secure an arena. However, they are now trying with all private money.
"(NBA Commissioner) Adam Silver has twice hinted the NBA is studying the concept of Mexico City. But there isn't a known ownership group."
Then there is Louisville. Three separate investor groups are interested in bringing an NBA team to Kentucky, the Louisville Courier-Journal reported.
"Louisville also has been mentioned as a possibility," Tomasson said. "However, I might be inclined to put Virginia Beach ahead of that city. In Kentucky, college basketball is king, and any NBA team would be No. 3 in popularity behind the Kentucky Wildcats and Louisville Cardinals.
"In Virginia, that's not an issue."
Commonwealth sports fans root for a number of different teams. Maybe one Virginia pro team would unite them.
"The NBA generally has a lot of success going to so-called 'one-horse towns,' cities in which the NBA becomes the only major pro sports team in town," Tomasson said.
Less than five years ago, the Sacramento Kings flirted with Virginia Beach.
"The problem now is that there really isn't a strong candidate to move among NBA teams," Tomasson said.
The other option is expansion.
"If the NBA were to expand to two teams, though, I'm not sure if Virginia Beach would even be one of the top two candidates," Tomasson said.
Seattle is the front-runner, with Las Vegas right behind, he said.
The Virginia Beach developer plans to build the largest arena in the state, but $300 million doesn't buy what it used to.
"The arena that just opened in Sacramento cost $550 million, and the arena being built in Milwaukee is projected at $525 million," Windhorst said. "That's why I thought $300 million was a little low for a state-of-the-art facility."
The website for ESG Companies, parent company of USM, says, "Although USM and its partners have determined that the arena will be financially viable without an NBA or NHL team, the facility will be constructed with the upgrade capabilities to attract a professional sports franchise in the future."
The Virginia Beach arena team visited Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Neb., during the planning process in 2014 to look at a facility "of the same scope and size," USM President and CEO Andrea Kilmer said at the time.
"I would say the arena in Lincoln is not an NBA-level arena," Windhorst said this past weekend. "It's a wonderful college arena. It's not constructed to squeeze revenue from every corner."
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