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Mayor Reveals City Could Shell Out for Practice Facility

The idea could cost millions and contradict promises that the city was done paying to lure a Sprint Center tenant.

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For two and a half years now, city leaders have promised that they wouldn’t shell out another dime to attract a tenant for the Sprint Center. The promise is even part of the 11-page contract with Anschutz Entertainment Group, the Los Angeles-based company that will manage the new arena.

But in a speech on Wednesday, Mayor Kay Barnes revealed that the city could end up building a practice facility for a Sprint Center tenant. That revelation could mean that the city might have to pay for a multimillion-dollar facility where a pro hockey or basketball team would practice.

According to a city official close to the negotiations, such a deal was discussed when officials with the Pittsburgh Penguins came to Kansas City on January 3. Penguins officials were even shown possible locations in several city parks where a practice facility could be built.

“I’m sure that will be part of the discussions with a team,” says Greg Williams, an aide to the mayor who has been involved with the Sprint Center negotiations. But Williams offered little in the way of details. He said he didn’t know how much a practice facility would cost or whether the city would split the costs with AEG or a team. Williams said he wasn’t sure whether the city would negotiate the costs of a practice facility or how the city could afford it. He said AEG would negotiate the deal with a perspective tenant.

Pro teams often use practice facilities away from their home arenas, and cities are often asked to help pick up the tab for them. In Cleveland, the local government is paying $21 million to build a 50,000-square-foot practice facility for the NBA’s Cavaliers. In New Orleans, the NBA’s Hornets have threatened to leave if the city doesn’t build a multimillion-dollar practice facility.

Barnes revealed the practice facility idea during a speech at a luncheon put on by the Downtowners organization, which had invited her to talk about what would be happening in the city in 2007. Speaking in the banquet room of the Hereford House, Barnes was asked about the possibility of the Penguins coming to town. During her answer, she said that the city “may build a practice facility for a team.”

Several days earlier, at a January 4 press conference, AEG President Tim Leiweke suggested that the city could be asked to contribute something more to lure a team, although he declined to explain what that might be. Barnes’ revelation about a practice facility would seem to explain the comment.

Over the past two years, Leiweke had promised on several occasions that the Sprint Center would have a pro hockey or NBA team by the time the doors open to the facility in October (“We’re Pucked,” September 7). But lately, Leiweke and Barnes have backed off that promise, saying that it’s more likely a team, if they’re able to find one, wouldn’t come until 2008.

Barnes and City Manager Wayne Cauthen didn’t immediately return a phone calls from the Pitch.

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