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Big-league sports not on the horizon for Norfolk

Posted to: News

By HARRY MINIUM
The Virginian-Pilot

NORFOLK - Here's a reality check for sports fans who've been holding out hope that Norfolk will become a big league city.

The best arena site is becoming a high-rise. The tax money to build an arena is going to a convention center instead.

This means Norfolk appears to be out of the running to become a major league city, and will be for some time, according to a majority of the City Council.

If an NBA owner approached Mayor Paul Fraim about helping to build an arena, he likely would have to say no.

Funding an arena would require large tax increases, and in the present fiscal and political climate, that's not going to happen, several council members said.

"To find substantial local tax revenues to go into a sports arena, that would be difficult," Fraim said. "We're just not in that sort of position."

Councilman W. Randy Wright, who has been Fraim's strongest council supporter when it comes to major sports, said, "This is an issue that a future City Council will have to grapple with."

Last week, the city approved building a $49 million convention center downtown that will be paid for with a tax increase of several years ago on restaurant meals and hotel rooms.

The council raised those taxes with the intention of using the money for an arena or a convention center. The money will be committed to the convention center for two decades.

Moreover, the city's capital improvements budget is overflowing with projects that will strain spending for perhaps a decade. A new courthouse complex, four new libraries, light rail, a cruise ship terminal, the takeover of the battleship Wisconsin, new school buildings and plans to revitalize four neighborhoods will cost the city hundreds of millions of dollars.

And the city has a backlog of infrastructure improvements, including an overcrowded jail and deteriorating roads.

This comes at a time when real estate assessments are climbing and taxpayers are clamoring for deep cuts in the real estate tax rate. A meeting on the issue last week attracted more than 700 people.

"I'm not going to support any new projects, be it the NBA or whatever," said Councilman Paul R. Riddick, who has been a proponent of bringing major sports to the city. "We can't afford it."

Months ago, the 4.5-acre site being preserved for an NBA arena, located between Scope and MacArthur Center, was committed to a $150 million development. The Wachovia Center will rise 22 stories and will contain 250,000 square feet of office space, 175 apartments and 50,000 square feet of retail space.

Fraim said other arena sites remain, including one adjacent to Harbor Park, but he acknowledged that the Wachovia site was the best.

Last year, the House of Delegates rejected a proposal from Del. Terrie Suit, R-Virginia Beach, to allow Norfolk to capture state taxes generated at an arena to help pay the arena debt. Without those taxes, Fraim said, "there's no way to build an arena."

And because of the state's taxing structure, neighboring cities have nothing to gain by helping Norfolk build such a complex.

The city came close to attracting a major sports team only once - when the NBA's Charlotte Hornets gave Norfolk a serious look before relocating to New Orleans in 2002. There also was a failed regional effort in 1996-97 to bring an NHL expansion team that would have been known as the Hampton Roads Rhinos. And in 2003- 04, a group tried to lure baseball's Montreal Expos, who relocated to Washington.

After that effort failed, the City Council decided to put the tax monies into a convention center. Wright said that was a good decision, because it will generate immediate tax dollars.

Unless the region comes together to build an arena, or another city, such as Virginia Beach, decides to build one, "we won't see an arena here for a decade," Wright said.

That saddens Fraim, who since the 1980s has led efforts to turn Norfolk into an NBA city. He still says an arena is the missing component downtown, and that major sports would draw the region together.

"But everybody has to face the reality of this," he said. "Under the present set of circumstances, it would be very difficult, if not impossible."

  • Reach Harry Minium at (757) 446-2371 or harry.minium@pilotonline.com




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    Parking, Traffice Nightmare

    There is just no way to park and get 14K cars and 18K people into a event such as a Baseball Game on a Wednesday Night, or a Basketball Game while there are other functions going on in either Hampton or Norfolk.

    A game would shut down the area roads.

    Look at the trouble for a whole lot less people at the entertainment complexes in the area now.

    z-z-z-z-z-z-z.....

    Same story, different decade. Give up, Tidewater, will ya? The only thing major league you have to offer is crime and traffic snarls. Remember, happiness is Tidewater in your rear view mirror!

    Maybe now that Norfolk has Stopped

    dreaming about being a Big League City, Virginia Beach will stop dreaming about being a World Class Resort. I'm not sure what caused the Norfolk leadership to embrace reality, but I hope it catches on in the surrounding towns. Until Hampton Roads unifies, the fractured leadership and feuding amonst the fiefdoms will hold this area back.

    Better off without 'em

    Maybe I'm in the minority, but where in the state or federal constitution does it say the government should tax me so they can support a private industry? Major league teams are privately owned businesses, who pay their employees (sports stars) obscene amounts of money. With the salaries they get, the players could build their own stadiums, and not at the expense of the taxpayers.

    Take a good look at the past and the present.

    I the past we had the VA Squires (started good faded quickly), the Tidewater Tides (Norfolk wanted it for themselves, so other cities have provided little support), the NASCAR track came close (it wasn't in Norfolk or VaBeach, so no support from them), the LPGA in Suffolk (no support, couldn't even keep the course up). Face it, this area does not have the income level to support a major sport. There is not enough disposable income to even buy tickets to a minor league sport much less a major league. The salary for the same job elsewhere (even in Richmond) is higher than this area. The low paying civil service jobs are a lot of the problem, last I heard they were something like 18% lower pay than private sector jobs of other areas. If people can't afford to put food on the table they certainly can't afford to buy tickets to major league sporting events. Then if you look at the planning in this area it's even worst. Where's the parking and roads to support these projects?

    It is all a Conspiracy

    - The "short" skyscrapers (opposite Charlotte, Tulsa, etc.)
    - The lack of a premiere sports arena (opposite Jacksonville, Oklahoma City, etc.)
    - A mediocre international airport (opposite Memphis, Raleigh, etc.)

    The only thing Norfolk/Hampton Roads has going for them is a resort area (Virginia Beach), a prime historic district (the Colonial Triangle) and the upscale Nordstroms. Maybe Norfolk will get a light-rail system. But everything else in Hampton Roads is practically crap......For the next ten years or more you will have to travel to Washington, Charlotte or Raleigh to watch premiere sports and indoor concerts. Why is Hampton Roads such a minor-league area for its size?? I will tell you why, maybe it is because it is a military-strategic area with proximity to Washington and New York. The area has been low key since World War II and the Cold War began, and it's still is, despite being bested by San Diego and San Antonio - major league military cities.

    VA Beach - step up to the plate!!!

    I always thought Norfolk would be our chance to get major league sports, but it now seems that dream is fading away. It would most likely be easier if only Va Beach could somehow help build an arena in Norfolk, but I didn't see how they could benefit unless they called the team the Va Beach Rhinos or Va Beach Nighthawks. Now that Va Beach has a fledgling downtown, what better way to anchor that area with a spanking new arena. That way Norfolk could put up 40-50% of the money to build it and then call the team the Norfolk Rhinos or Norfolk Nighthawks. This way Norfolk gets national recognition and Va Beach gets a huge influx of people to attract to their downtown. I don't believe the Beach council has the will to go it alone and this is the only way I see us getting major league sports.

    can't wait til '08 - big broom acoming

    Last week, the city approved building a $49 million convention center downtown that"will be paid for with a tax increase of several years ago on restaurant meals and hotel rooms""". raised taxes on then existing businesses to fund and build a competitors bussines?? no wonder uncle louies closed it's doors, of all the underhanded actions these politians to do, that's criminal,""The council raised those taxes with the intention of using the money for an arena or a convention center. The money will be committed to the convention center for two decades.""this city is in the looney bin, over $$1 billion operating budget for a population of maybe 300 thousand people, and they're forcing the people out with higher taxes on everything, to build items that are not needed nor wanted, or affordable, who cares about major sports in this area anyway, as long as we're dependent on tunnels and bridges major sports will not happen,- every every tax paying norfolk fool knows that. can't wait til 08

    How Unfortunate

    I applaud Norfolk for the improvements made to downtown and the location where the high rise is going would have been perfect but I can't blame them for the choice made. Norfolk should not have to bring a pro team here on their own. We have seven cities and a few counties that should come to the table, leave their egos at the door and get this thing done. The location of the arena should be in either Norfolk or VA Beach because they are the most populous and have the best current infrastruture. I would just like to see the cities come together and act like the region they claim to be. I believe Hampton Roads will always be an after thought to major league sports until we learn to act as one. I guess we will have to continue to get excited about an exhibition game between two pro baseball teams that is meaningless.

    Outmoded Facilities

    Why build more hotels and convention space if there are no major attractions in Norfolk? Both Scope and Chrysler Hall are just too small for most "major" events. Cities that think ahead have continous attractions like major sporting/cultural events that drive the equation. We can't even host the CAA tournament in Norfolk due to the size of Scope. We are losing a lot of event money to other cities due to our poor facilities. I am proud of what Norfolk has accomplished, but this is a major weakness in the overall plan.

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