Paying the price to be big league.
Oklahoma City residents have decided that more public money raised by a sales tax hike over eight years will be used to fix up the city’s 17-year-old arena for a private business, the National Basketball Association’s Oklahoma City Thunder along with other city-wide projects including the construction of a soccer stadium for the city’s USL franchise. When the building was opened in 2002, it really was not a state-of-the-art NBA arena although it was constructed to meet then National Hockey League standards. Oklahoma City taxpayers were hit with a one percent sales tax hike to pay off the $89 million cost of the facility. The place was designed with the possibility of being upgraded to eventually meet NBA state-of-the-art standards.
After the devastation in New Orleans caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the owner of the NBA’s Hornets George Shinn had to leave town and he set up shop in Oklahoma City. Shinn’s team did very well financially and there became a real possibility that the NBA could permanently place another team in Oklahoma City once New Orleans was in shape to take back Shinn’s team in 2007. Oklahoma City investors bought the Seattle SuperSonics with a not so hidden agenda, buy the team and move it to Oklahoma City in 2008. Voters in Oklahoma City said yes to another sales tax hike on March 4, 2008 to fund arena upgrades that the Oklahoma City group demanded if they were to move the SuperSonics to Oklahoma City. The sales tax hike lasted 15 months but fell short of raising $121 million was needed to get the venue up to NBA standards. Eventually all of the improvements were made. Oklahoma City taxpayers also paid $16 million for the Thunder’s practice facility. The new sales tax hike will go to the arena and practice facility. It is a small price to be big league.