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April 2001
Not Just An Arena....A Center City Mecca
By John Paul Galles
     Under the proposal, the city would bear the expense of building the arena with the Hornets paying the city generally increasing amounts per year through the end of a 25-year lease. Revenue for the arena would be raised through taxes on hotel rooms, rental cars, players’ salaries, and tickets to events held in the new arena, as well as rent received from the Charlotte Hornets for using it.
     The proposal itself is far from definitive; there are significant issues to be resolved.  These include the likelihood of tax-exempt bond status, the location of the stadium itself, the state’s financial contribution, the soundness of revenue projections to retire the bonds, authorization of a ticket tax, the exact mix of cultural beneficiaries, and so forth. 
Given the unresolved issues and the complexity of their determination, the timing of the referendum is rather curious. The Hornets have said that waiting until November would be too costly in losses for the franchise, currently at $1 million a month, and indicate that they are willing to finance the roughly $400,000 cost of the June referendum. Conventional wisdom, however, based on local experience, indicates that chances of approval in June are slim; that postponing it until November would attract more voters and resolve more specifics.
One does wonder about the value of holding a non-binding referendum at all.  Disapproval would not estop City Council from proceeding either as proposed or in a totally a different fashion. Approval would not compel City Council to proceed upon the terms of the proposal or at all. To the extent it is not voted down, however, perhaps holding the June referendum will encourage sooner resolution of the outstanding issues, and help build momentum and enthusiasm for this massive undertaking. 
While the unresolved issues are daunting, we must not lose sight of the larger, more important objective that the arena proposal serves. As we said in large part last August:

The question really is — do we want to build something for ourselves in the process? Seeking to expand the use and purpose of the arena, making sure it is designed for the future, and planning for it as a center city mecca will certainly serve to offset its cost while invigorating the center city and delineating Charlotte from other mid-sized cities.

     It is significant to note how far the City Council’s proposal has evolved. Charlotte City Council members have acknowledged the public’s rejection of proposals funded by property taxes, while at the same time struggling to find ways to reinvigorate the center city as well as to enhance the city’s identity. After much study and deliberation, they have fashioned an arena proposal that addresses each of these issues, one that encompasses far more than “just a sports arena,” a proposal that business can and should support!
Already Charlotte chamber and business executives have marshalled in excess of a million dollars to educate the voting public on the merits of the proposal. Voters need to see the arena as an asset that will belong to the entire community and one that will significantly contribute to the revitalization of uptown and the identity of Charlotte. 
Hopefully, the urgency required by the Hornets to have a new home and the rapid-fire propulsion toward the June referendum, rushing the preparation of language for the referendum as well as the resolution of its many unknowns, will not backfire on its proponents, but will serve to amalgamate support for the mecca envisioned.  It is clear that if the package is going to pass, the business community has a significant task ahead. We support this proposal and urge you to do so too.

John Paul Galles is the publisher of Greater Charlotte Biz.
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