Thunder arena budget clearing up

OKLAHOMA CITY -- An oversight board charged with keeping renovations of the Oklahoma City Thunder's arena under budget now has a clearer picture of a multimillion dollar shortfall in funding for the project.

Members of the city board were told Tuesday that the final budget for the renovations will be $112 million, or about $9 million less than anticipated when voters approved a one-penny sales tax intended to upgrade the arena and lure the Thunder away from Seattle.

The 15-month sales tax actually produced about $103.6 million in funds for the renovation, with the final check arriving last week. The city also can draw from an additional $8.4 million tax fund to cover part of the shortfall, but the board has been working for months to scale back the upgrades of the Ford Center and a new Thunder practice facility to keep from overspending.

"We want to deliver the quality we promised but I think we have to look at the money we've got here as an iron cap," said City Councilman Patrick Ryan, the board's chairman. "There's no more money. Our source of funding has ended. I think we'd be on thin ground if we could even go back to the City Council and ask for additional money."

Estimates now call for the city to spend about $91.7 million on the Ford Center upgrades instead of just under $100 million, and $14.4 million on the practice facility instead of $20 million.

The arena renovation will continue this summer with a series of minor updates to concession stands, restrooms, a green room and the offices of the arena's management company. Some of those projects could begin in the next 10 days.

Construction on a final phase that will feature a grand entrance will begin during next season and require the closure of the arena after the season is over. That phase, estimated to cost about $39 million, is scheduled for completion prior to the 2011-12 NBA season.

The practice facility is expected to be finished by Sept. 10.