I'm not prone to gushing over economic development stories. To be truthful, there hasn't been a lot to gush over in recent years. But the entire New Orleans area owes itself a big high five after the successful effort to lure the Charlotte Hornets NBA team to the Crescent City.
The negotiations and the resulting agreement with the Hornets' owners were a textbook example of regional cooperation among business, civic and political leaders. If anyone ever doubted the mission and viability of MetroVision, let them be silenced. The organization, which promotes regional cooperation for economic development, scored a three-pointer with the Hornets deal.
There were lots of congratulations floating across the Japanese Room at Antoine's Restaurant last Thursday night, as local business leaders toasted those who made the deal happen. Indeed, everyone involved deserves a ton of credit, starting with MetroVision's president, attorney Bill Hines, and Doug Thornton, general manager of the Superdome and the New Orleans Arena. The Arena will be the team's new home.
Mayor Marc Morial, Jefferson Parish President Tim Coulon, area legislators (who will be giving up their coveted, discretionary "slush funds" to finance part of the deal) and Gov. Mike Foster's office -- particularly chief of staff Steve Perry -- all played major roles in making the 10-year deal happen. Perry was crucial, because he speaks for Foster and because the deal cannot happen without state support. He was among the deal's most enthusiastic backers, saying it signals an "economic renaissance for the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana."
Perry pointed to several budding economic development projects as proof. They include expanding the Morial Convention Center, retaining the New Orleans Saints and developing the city's proposed medical complex. All require significant state action (read: money).
While those who brokered the Hornets deal certainly deserve all the credit they're getting, two other men played seminal roles years ago: former Mayor Sidney Barthelemy and former Gov. Edwin Edwards. Barthelemy conceived the arena idea and promoted it to local and state officials. I remember dubbing it the Sidneydome -- although this newspaper proudly endorsed the idea of an arena when it came up for legislative approval. Edwards, to his credit, stepped up to the plate and pushed it through the Legislature.
Hornets owners George Shinn and Ray Woolridge expressed unbridled optimism that the deal will go through. After the Antoine's dinner, they continued celebrating at the House of Blues Foundation Room. The city's abundant nightlife could be a big selling point for the high-flying team brass (and maybe NBA officials as well).
Meanwhile, there's lots of work to be done. The whole deal depends on New Orleans businesses and sports fans coughing up money for tickets -- 8,000 season tickets, plus another 2,450 club seats and 54 luxury suites -- by mid-March.
Other unforeseen events could nix the deal, too. For starters, Charlotte could get its act together and make the Hornets an offer they can't refuse (although team owners promised last week that "no amount of money" could keep them from coming to New Orleans). NBA officials also could put the kibosh on the move. It's no secret that NBA Commissioner David Stern doesn't think much of the New Orleans market.
But such things are beyond our control. What we can control is the local level of support. My wife and I are planning to get season tickets. If you want to join us at the games, call (800) 596-1515 to place your ticket order.
It's been a long time since the NBA played in New Orleans. I cherish my memories of watching Pistol Pete Maravich wow the crowd in the Superdome when he played for the New Orleans Jazz. Now it could be our turn to take somebody's team away.
Hey, if Marc Morial can sink a 20-foot, "nothing-but-net" shot at the news conference announcing the deal -- with no warm-ups -- anything's possible.