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SA Begins Campaign with Political Leaders

Discussion in 'BBS Hangout: Debate & Discussion' started by Jeff, Jul 17, 2000.

  1. Jeff

    Jeff Clutch Crew

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    From the Chronicle:

    Campaign for arena deal begins

    Approval from leaders sought in time to get plan on ballot
    By ERIC BERGER
    Copyright 2000 Houston Chronicle

    Key sports authority members trade the negotiating table for the political realm today as they begin trying to sell opinion leaders on a downtown arena proposal.

    The architects of a deal with the Houston Rockets said they would meet with about 30 public officials -- including each member of City Council and Harris County Commissioners Court -- in the coming weeks.

    This politicking must be completed before the full Harris County-Houston Sports Authority board votes on the proposal, the deal designers insist, because they want to present a united front.

    Last November, voters soundly rejected a proposal to spend tax money on a downtown arena, partly because some opinion leaders, such as County Judge Robert Eckels, were equivocal, and others, such as County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt, called it a bad deal for taxpayers.

    The new agreement reflects some concerns of these officials, including removal of a ticket tax and tax abatements.

    The sports authority would sell bonds for the $175 million arena and pay them off with its hotel and car rental tax revenues and annual rent payment of $8.5 million from the Rockets.

    "In some sense, the campaign begins now," Grover Jackson, vice chairman of the sports authority, said Monday. "We have an awful lot of work to do."

    And not much time to do it.

    Jackson and the other three sports authority board members who negotiated the proposal, Chairman Billy Burge, Ric Campo and Larry Catuzzi, are sensitive to the fact that Election Day, Nov. 7, is not far off.

    Jackson and Burge said they would prefer to put the matter to a full board vote at its monthly meeting July 27.

    A practical drop-dead date, in terms of ensuring enough time to put the measure on the ballot this November, is about Aug 15.

    But delaying that long would hinder an effort to forge a pro-arena campaign already strapped for time.

    "We are eager to move forward if the sports authority can persuade key opinion leaders to support the agreement," said the Rockets' chief operating officer, George Postolos.

    At most, Burge said, he hopes the sports authority would have to postpone its meeting by only a week.

    Much of the deal has been public since late June, and many prospective campaign leaders and elected officials interviewed recently have expressed a desire to close it out.

    "It really hurts to let this slide into August," said one business leader expected to contribute to a pro-arena campaign.

    The nine sports authority board members not directly involved in negotiations with the Rockets will receive top briefing priority.

    "We need to make sure there are no surprises to them at the next board meeting," Burge said. "We need to make sure they buy into this process."

    Next up will be Mayor Lee Brown, Eckels and 1999 deal opponents such as Bettencourt and Houston Aeros owner Chuck Watson. Eventually all of City Council, Commissioners Court and the area's delegation to the Legislature will be briefed.

    The sports authority negotiators have met with some of these officials for months, especially the opponents, but now they will be detailing what is essentially a complete agreement.

    The message Burge, Jackson and the others will take is simple: This is not a perfect deal for Rockets owner Leslie Alexander or taxpayers, but it's a fair deal.

    Burge was careful to note that the deal is not final until the sports authority signs off on it. If it becomes clear that a number of key officials cannot support the proposal because of a certain point, it could be modified.


    This happened last week with the facility's proposed 2,500-space parking garage.

    The sports authority had committed the city to build the garage as part of its agreement to provide parking for the Rockets. Some city officials balked, and it was even suggested that the Rockets pay for the garage.

    Yet the sports authority had agreed to provide the parking from the beginning. To prevent this commitment from slipping away, the team announced Wednesday -- somewhat out of the blue -- that it had agreed to the arena proposal.

    But when it became clear that asking the city to build the garage would be a tough political sell, the sports authority turned to the private sector.

    In this case, the group that provided an interest-free, $34.7 million loan to the sports authority to buy land for Enron Field will likely do the same for the garage.

    The result is the same for Alexander: He still gets the revenue from 2,500 parking spaces for his Rockets, Comets and ThunderBears events.

    Burge and Jackson said Monday that they had shaken off some of their concern over the Rockets' announcement last week -- it was made, after all, without telling Burge.

    Still he reiterated, "Til we say there is a deal, there is no deal."

    However, because the Rockets and sports authority have been haggling since February, it is difficult to see Alexander agreeing to any major changes at this point.


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    "No one gets out ALIVE!"
    SaveOurRockets.com
     
  2. Jeff

    Jeff Clutch Crew

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    To that end, for those of you who haven't seen it yet, we started a new email campaign. Go to http://www.saveourrockets.com/email.cfm to send an email aimed at persuading city and county officials to support the proposed deal!

    ------------------
    "No one gets out ALIVE!"
    SaveOurRockets.com
     

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