Governor backs construction of practice facility for Hornets

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Gov. Kathleen Blanco is backing $14.5
million in state funding to build a new training facility for the New Orleans Hornets.

The dollars for the practice center were included in the Blanco
administration recommendations for construction project funding
submitted Thursday to the State Bond Commission, which will vote
next week on whether to approve the list.

Under the plan proposed by Blanco, the state would spend $1.5
million this year and the rest in later years.

The state agreed to build a new practice facility -- and the city
set aside more than $6 million to help pay for it -- when the
Hornets moved to New Orleans from Charlotte, N.C., in 2002.

Construction was delayed for a variety of reasons, including
team owner George Shinn's change of mind regarding his preferred
site for the building.

Originally, Shinn settled on a location in the eastern part of
the city. He later asked that the facility be built on state-owned
land next to the downtown Arena.

The Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District did not want to
give up valuable downtown land for that purpose but found a
workable compromise, proposing to attach the practice center to
the arena by building it above an existing loading dock.

The new facility could cost as much as $20 million.

The Hornets' lease at the New Orleans Arena runs through 2012.
Shinn has said he expects the state to fulfill its promise of a
modern training center similar to what a number of other NBA teams
have and that he may not extend his team's stay in Louisiana
without it.

In the meantime, the Hornets are practicing rent-free in the
state-owned Alario Center in suburban Westwego, where they also
practiced for their first three seasons in New Orleans before being
temporarily displaced to Oklahoma City by Hurricane Katrina before
the 2005-06 season.