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Keeping options open

Hornets to apply for relocation to Memphis

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Posted: Monday March 26, 2001 4:43 PM
Updated: Monday March 26, 2001 5:47 PM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- The Charlotte Hornets, facing the chance that voters could scotch plans for a new downtown arena, sought NBA permission Monday to move the team to Memphis, co-owner Ray Wooldridge said.

The Vancouver Grizzlies also filed for relocation to Memphis, setting up a territorial fight at the league's deadline for its clubs to request moves to other cities.

A five-member committee will study the requests for up to four months before making a recommendation. Final approval must come from the league's Board of Governors.

In a brief statement, Wooldridge said the team filed the application to preserve its options if city voters reject a new $215 million downtown arena in a referendum in June.

The Hornets say they need the new arena to be profitable.

"The city and the Hornets have made significant progress and remain confident that a mutually satisfactory agreement can be reached," Wooldridge's statement read.

A Hornets spokeswoman said the co-owner was not available for interviews.

Earlier Monday, Wooldridge told The Charlotte Observer he would prefer the Hornets remain in Charlotte.

"This [the NBA deadline] is not a date that I created," he said. "We can't get into a situation where we don't have an option [should the June referendum fail]. This does not change anything" as far as working out a deal in Charlotte.

Wooldridge told The Observer the team could lose as much as $40 million next season if he did not apply for relocation and the referendum failed. He called that possibility "disastrous financially."

Wooldridge confirmed he discussed swapping franchises with the Grizzlies and selling the team to Charlotte interests, but had not received a firm offer on either of those options.

With the deadline looming for relocation applications, city officials and fans awaited word of a possible sale of the NBA club.

Hugh McColl Jr., the highly regarded chairman of Bank of America, stirred up the frenzy last week when he said a new ownership group could be announced as early as Monday.

"We are working on buying out [George] Shinn and that other guy [Wooldridge] as owners of the NBA franchise," McColl said during a speech Friday.

McColl and Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory have endorsed new ownership for the Hornets, and co-owner George Shinn and Wooldridge have indicated they would be open to offers if the price was right.

The Hornets and the city have been negotiating the financing of a new arena. A referendum has been tentatively scheduled for June 5 on a $352 million package that would include a $215 million NBA arena as the centerpiece.

The city council was expected to discuss other funding options for the arena proposal Monday night.

 
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