Escambia County’s indecision on the Pensacola Bay Center’s future has delayed the New Orleans Pelicans’ decision on whether or not to bring NBA G League basketball to Pensacola, a team official said Thursday.
Pensacola has been under consideration for nearly a year as the potential home for Pelican’s new development league team, set to begin play by the 2019-2020 season. But county commissioners are currently debating whether to upgrade the 32-year-old Bay Center or move forward with a $100 million plan for a new arena and field house. A minimum of about $2.25 million in upgrades would be required to bring the arena up to NBA G League standards, a figure which SMG — the firm which manages the Bay Center — has offered to fund in exchange for a five-year extension of their contract.
Despite the SMG’s offer to foot the bill, Commissioner Jeff Bergosh awkwardly asked Pate if the Pelicans would be willing to put up the money for the upgrades.
“Are you willing to put some money into this project?” Bergosh asked. “Point blank question.”
“I think that’s a discussion we can have once this decision is made later this month,” Pate said.
“But I think you’re the decider,” Bergosh shot back.
“I’m actually not,” Pate said.
“Well, we need to know as soon as possible,” said Bergosh.
“We’ve had conversations with [Assistant County Administrator] Amy [Lovoy] over the past month, month and a half, and we’ll continue to have that dialogue. We like Pensacola, we really like the area, we think there’s a lot of synergy between the two cities, so we want to keep the dialogue open, but we are waiting to see what direction the county goes in.”
Pate said that the Pelicans believe the Bay Center is “a good facility for a G League team.”
“If that was the direction that the Board decided to go in, we would certainly be good with that,” Pate said.
Commissioners on Thursday voted to begin negotiating an interim agreement with Pensacola Arena Development Partners — the consortium behind the $100 million plan for a new arena — with the caveat that the plan won’t move forward unless the group receives some $25 million in funding it’s seeking from Triumph Gulf Coast. Commissioners also directed county staff to complete due diligence on SMG’s proposal for upgrading the Bay Center.
Commissioner Grover Robinson — who last month suggested the county “scrap” the Bay Center — called the proposed new arena and field house “the kind of project that we need as a community.”
“I have no interest in continuing to work with a building I know is functionally obsolete,” Robinson said.
SMG has said that replacing the 10,000-seat Bay Center with a 6,500-seat arena, as proposed, would “greatly diminish [Pensacola’s] potential for attracting high-profile acts.”
“Shows that have traditionally played Pensacola would simply bypass the market due to a lack of revenue potential,” SMG said in its proposal to county officials.