Originally created 05/03/01

Hornets withdraw application for move to Memphis



CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Charlotte Hornets, buoyed by a first-round playoff sweep of Miami and progress in their battle for a new arena, withdrew their application for relocation to Memphis, Tenn., on Wednesday.

Hornets co-owner George Shinn said the fan turnout for Friday night's Game 3 against the Heat played a part in his decision. A capacity crowd of 22,283 saw the Hornets win 94-79.

Charlotte's only other two sellouts this season had 4,000 fewer fans because the Hornets had tarps over the "least desirable" seats until the playoffs.

"As much as the Hornets are an asset to the community, this community has been an asset to the Hornets, and this team belongs to the fans of Charlotte," Shinn said in a statement.

The Hornets applied with the NBA in March to move the team to Memphis. The Vancouver Grizzlies also applied to move to Memphis, and the NBA said it would evaluate both applications and decide which team, if either, would move.

Shinn and co-owner Ray Wooldridge cited losses of more than $1 million a month, declining attendance and a need for a new arena with luxury seating as reasons for the move.

The application was made even though the team has been in ongoing negotiations with the city of Charlotte for a new arena. Wooldridge said at that time of the filing that he did it so the Hornets would have an option if a June 5 referendum on the arena fails.

The new arena is part of a proposed $342 million package of seven downtown sports and cultural projects.

The Hornets signed a 25-year lease Monday on the new arena, which the city required them to do before they would ask the board of elections to place the referendum on the ballot.

Now Shinn, who founded the franchise that began play in 1988, said he was withdrawing the application in a move of good faith to prove the team wants to remain in Charlotte.

"With the progress and hard work by the city to create a vibrant downtown with many exciting projects, we felt the need to further show a commitment to Charlotte and our fans," he said.

NBA commissioner David Stern said, "We are pleased to see that the Hornets are going to be staying in Charlotte. Charlotte has been a great city for the NBA, as the community has embraced the team with a remarkable demonstration of support.

"With the withdrawal of the Hornets' application for relocation, the relocation committee will now focus solely on the Grizzlies' application."

Friday's enthusiastic home crowd was reminiscent of the franchise's early days, when the Hornets led the league in attendance seven straight seasons.

They sold out 364 games over 10 seasons.

In Memphis, the "NBA pursuit team" charged with enticing a franchise to the city was buoyed by Shinn's announcement.

"This will put us in a position to negotiate a lot of the outstanding issues that we were unable to handle without knowing who our partner was going to be," said J.R. "Pitt" Hyde III, leader of the business group that is hoping to buy up to half of a team.

"We're excited. We think this is going to accelerate the process."

Hyde said the Hornets' withdrawal means his group and Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley can begin negotiations with local government for a new arena. Memphis has been seeking a major league sports franchise for more than 30 years.

Memphis-based FedEx Corp. has made a commitment expected to total some $100 million over 20 years to buy naming rights for a Memphis team and a new arena.