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Charlotte proposes spending $275 million to extend Hornets lease for 15 years

The Charlotte City Council will vote June 13th on spending $215 million to improve the Spectrum Center.
WFAE file
The Charlotte City Council will vote June 13 on spending $215 million to improve the Spectrum Center.

The city of Charlotte wants to spend $275 million to renovate the Spectrum Center in exchange for the Charlotte Hornets extending their lease from 2030 to 2045.

The city said it’s contractually obligated to spend $173 million to improve the arena, which opened in the fall of 2005.

It also said it has agreed to spend another $42 million on renovations. And the city has proposed spending $60 million on a new stand-alone practice facility that would be built on a gravel lot next to the arena or on the site of the main bus station uptown.

Tracy Dodson, the city’s economic development director, said the deal is good for the city because the Hornets have agreed to extend their lease for 15 years.

Dodson said the city might need to build a new arena to keep the Hornets in Charlotte. But she said spending the additional $42 million locks in the team for five years.

“We wanted to get ahead of that,” she said.

When the Spectrum Center opened in 2005, it cost $265 million to build — or about $390 million in today’s dollars.

The city spent nearly $30 million to improve the arena last decade, including a new scoreboard.

The city said it’s obligated to spend $173 million because of its contract with the Hornets.

The contract calls for the team’s arena to be among the more modern buildings in the NBA. So if a group of teams add amenities to their arenas, that increases the likelihood that the city will have to pay for improvements to keep the Spectrum Center among the most modern.

Dodson did not give many details about how the arena would change after the city spent the $215 million on the building.

She said it would pay for new HVAC systems, as well roof repairs and better food and beverage options.

Dodson said the $265 million Spectrum Center is “middle-aged” by NBA standards. But of the NBA’s 29 arenas, only six were built after the Spectrum Center.

City Council member Ed Driggs said the deal may make sense because it extends the team’s lease. But he says the original contract with the team — then called the Bobcats — was bad.

“I think the terms of our contract with the team as negotiated a number of years ago are very onerous,” Driggs said. “And the fact that we have accrued $173 million liability for improvements is a manifestation of that.”

Dodson says the improvements would be paid for by tourism taxes and not general sales taxes or property taxes. She says the Hornets have agreed to cover cost overruns.

City Council is scheduled to make a final decision on June 13.

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Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.