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Friday, February 23, 2007
Hornets ask NO for more money for practice courts

Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS -- Hornets owner George Shinn said Friday night that a new, publicly financed practice facility, which was promised to him when he moved his NBA team here in 2002, will now cost as much as $20 million.

"We have a contract. We've honored our end of the contract and we fully expect the state to honor theirs," Shinn said shortly before the Hornets hosted the Seattle SuperSonics. "We're putting up the money to get our people back here and get this thing going and do our part to rebuild this city."

The city has put aside a little more than $6 million, which has sat in escrow since the move. That money will not be disbursed until the team has agreed with city and state officials on a location and design for the building.

Before the storm, delays stemmed from differences over where the building should be built. Shinn initially agreed that it should be in the eastern part of the city on land that was to be donated by the city. But, he later changed his mind, saying it made more sense to put the building on state-owned land next to the New Orleans Arena, where the team will once again play a full home schedule next season.

The Hornets currently are in the final year of a two-year agreement with the State of Louisiana, prompted by Hurricane Katrina, to play most of their home games and all home playoff games in Oklahoma City.

Shinn said his team's contract with the state calls for a publicly funded training headquarters comparable to the top facilities in the league. Shinn said the standard he would use is a new facility built by the Cavaliers in suburban Cleveland.

"We don't want anybody to have a better practice facility than us unless it's 10 years down the road," Shinn said.

The Hornets' contract with the state requires the team to remain in New Orleans until 2012 and league commissioner David Stern has said he does not want NBA teams breaking their leases.

However, if the rebuilding New Orleans area proves too weak economically to sustain both the Hornets and the NFL's Saints long-term, the team could use the lack of a new training headquarters as a bargaining chip to be allowed out of its lease early and explore relocation.

Tim Coulon, chairman of the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District, which oversees the arena and several state-owned sporting venues, agreed the state must cover costs above what the city has put aside. He declined to discuss specifics about negotiations with the Hornets over how much the building should cost.

"We've had discussions with George's staff and there's no doubt the cost has escalated due to Katrina," he said.

For now, Shinn said he is committed to trying to make the Hornets successful in New Orleans, a city he wanted to be in when support for his franchise dwindled in Charlotte early this decade.

Shinn said he is still holding out hope that an agreement could be reached for an accelerated building schedule that would have at least part of the new building ready to host events related to the 2008 NBA All-Star game, which will be in New Orleans.

"Quite frankly, for the All-Star game, that facility is going to be needed. It could be if they really push it," Shinn said.

The Hornets do not know yet where they will practice next year, although they could use the same state-owned facility in suburban New Orleans they used before being displaced to Oklahoma City by the 2005 hurricane.

Still, Shinn said the new training headquarters is a priority in order to attract and keep top players.