Plan A for the proposed Ford Center upgrade is a Tuesday vote to extend Oklahoma City’s 1-cent MAPS for Kids sales tax for a year to fund major improvements and another three months to build a practice facility for a professional basketball team, raising about $120 million.
If the Big League City sales tax fails, could an alternative funding plan for an updated Ford Center quickly be resubmitted to voters for approval before the NBA owners’ meeting in April? That would leave hope unscathed for an NBA team in Oklahoma City.
Let’s call it Plan B: a $100 million bond issue offered by the city of Oklahoma City to rebuild the arena, retired over a decade or so by assessing a $5 supplemental per-seat charge and annual luxury box fees for all Ford Center events ” not only NBA games ” and renegotiating naming rights to the arena.
Some quick, back-of-the-envelope calculations: 10 years of sold-out NBA games (7 million seats) and 10 years of other Ford Center events (10 million seats) raise $85 million. A decade of luxury box surcharges might bring in $15 million, and, importantly, renegotiated arena naming rights could add at least another $25 million, totaling $125 million, which includes interest on the bonds.
Fuzzy math, maybe, but you get the gist, and those who attend Ford Center events likely won’t notice a $5 ticket surcharge (about the cost of an order of nachos with lukewarm cheese-like sauce).
Arena naming rights could be a substantial component of the funding. In 2002, Oklahoma Ford Dealers agreed to pay $5.3 million for 10 years, with a five-year extension option for an additional $2.8 million. By contrast, Sprint Corp. in 2004 agreed to pay $62.5 million for arena naming rights in Kansas City, Mo., with no NBA team.
If $25 million or more for new naming rights for a twice-better arena is too rich for Oklahoma Ford Dealers, buy them out and rebid the rights, perhaps including multiple naming variations. (How about the “Chesapeake Arena,” in the “Express Coliseum” at the “Devon Center?”)
Could there be a Plan B for the Ford Center? If next week’s sales-tax extension fails, sharper math for a Plan B can be crunched quickly enough.
And, if the sales tax is turned down, but not enough time remains to develop and approve Plan B before the NBA vote, team owners of the Seattle SuperSonics still could request to make the move to Oklahoma City based on our assurances, one way or another, that “if you come, we will build it.”
For two (from all accounts very profitable) seasons, George Shinn was delighted to have his New Orleans Hornets in Oklahoma City playing in the Ford Center as is, and we demonstrated Oklahoma City is ready for big-league professional sports.
In any event, Tuesday’s vote should not be a question of whether we want to be a Big League City ” as we already have proved ” but of how to fund it.
So, if a sales-tax extension doesn’t fly, let’s get going on Plan B, or Plan C, or something, because an Oklahoma City with great concerts and great events at a downtown jewel anchoring the city’s ambitious Core to Shore development plans ” and an NBA team ” would be priceless.
Hazelton is a wealth manager living in northwest Oklahoma City.