VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (AP) — The Virginia Beach oceanfront in the wintertime often resembles a ghost town, where the big crowds and bright lights of the summer tourist season have long since been replaced by closed restaurants, empty sidewalks and a string of dimly lit neon hotel vacancy signs.
But city leaders say they have a solution to transform the city's resort area into a year-round destination: Make it the home of an NBA team.
"It would be a game changer," Mayor Will Sessoms said.
On Tuesday, the city council will vote whether to move forward on a deal with Philadelphia based sports and entertainment company Comcast-Spectacor to try to lure a franchise to town by building a $300 million, 18,500 seat arena on city-owned land about eight blocks from the ocean. A final vote would come in February or March.
Officials in Virginia's largest city imagine a series of trolley cars zipping along the oceanfront picking up ticketholders from bars, restaurants and hotels to bring them to the game, while others could walk from nearby parking lots or an entertainment center that has been on the drawing board for years. The proposal would finally give the sprawling city of roughly 430,000 people a central hub of activity and help fill thousands of empty hotel rooms on game nights and after concerts. The idea is so intriguing to local businesses that the Virginia Beach Hotel-Motel Association voted to support hiking the city's hotel tax to help pay for the arena's construction at a time the tourism industry is starting to make a comeback.
While no specific team has been mentioned, a likely target for relocation would be the Sacramento Kings, which failed to reach a deal to build a new arena there this spring. The Kings nearly moved to Anaheim, Calif. last year before Sacramento's mayor was given one last chance by the NBA to come up with an arena deal. There have been no substantive arena negotiations between the team and the city since then, and a public relations firm hired by Virginia Beach has secured the domain names for virginiabeachkings.com and vbkings.com.
Comcast-Spectacor President Peter Luukko signed a confidentiality agreement preventing him from saying which team he's negotiating to bring to Virginia Beach, but he noted that these opportunities don't come up very often. He should know, because his company owns the NHL's Philadelphia Flyers and once owned the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers.
The proposal to bring an NBA team to Virginia Beach has plenty of critics, including members of the City Council who question whether the area has the population or the income level to support a pro team. The region has a long history of failed efforts to land NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball franchises.