Shinn says city's lack of progress is 'depressing'
OKLAHOMA CITY -- New Orleans' progress toward showing it can support its displaced NBA franchise in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has been discouragingly slow, Hornets owner George Shinn said Monday.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Shinn again said the Hornets plan to honor their lease at the New Orleans Arena but said that many "question marks" remain before he can determine whether that's a sound option.
"I've been back to New Orleans probably a half-dozen times since the storm, and each time we go back, I have a car there and we go back through the areas," Shinn said. "I hear all the politicians talk about all the great things that's happening: 'We'll be back in a year. We'll be back in five months.' You know, crazy stuff.
"I have seen virtually very, very little improvement and it's very discouraging and very depressing."
Shinn spoke of visiting areas of New Orleans that do not have grocery stores open, which in turn creates long lines at the stores that are open. On Monday, the city opened a portion of the Lower Ninth Ward for the first time -- a 10-block area that has had water, electricity and sewage services restored. The rest of the area, which was the hardest hit by Katrina, remains closed.
"It's very difficult to try to live there because with the traffic the way it is and because the areas that are damaged and destroyed, people just don't go through there," Shinn said. "Stop lights don't work. They don't have electricity there."
After averaging 18,717 fans at their home games in Oklahoma City this season, the Hornets will again play 35 games in the city next season. In the meantime, Shinn said the Hornets will try to determine whether people are interested in the team returning to New Orleans by taking 25 percent deposits toward 41-game season-ticket plans for 2007-08.
"That's going to tell us a lot," Shinn said.
Even before Katrina hit in August, the Hornets averaged a league-low 14,221 fans in 2004-05 as the team went 18-64. When the team made the playoffs the year before, the Hornets average attendance was 14,332.
"If you look at our gross before and now our gross here from the arena standpoint is almost double what it was in New Orleans. As a matter of fact, it is double," Shinn said.
"From a pure business model, if I was just a cold-hearted businessman the decision would be pretty easy but I've got to make the decision based on my head and my heart. I really do. I think it's very important to use good judgment. And if the state's willing to protect us, make sure we don't get hit hard, I'll ride it out."
However, Shinn said he doesn't think that Louisiana should offer to write the Hornets a check to ensure their financial success.
"I don't think they should do that because to me there are more important things to get done than having a basketball team. I think they've got to get the families back first and then worry about a basketball team," Shinn said. "That's my opinion, but I'm not one of the politicians in Louisiana."
Shinn said he pays attention to how the NFL's Saints are doing -- they're currently reporting season-ticket sales on a record pace -- but believes prospects of New Orleans supporting eight football games, mostly on weekends, are different than those of the city filling up New Orleans Arena for home 41 basketball games.
Two of the team's three games in New Orleans in March were sellouts.
"New Orleans is a great city. The architecture there is beautiful. I love it. I think it's got great history," Shinn said. "To me, it is a great event town. I mean, Jazz Fest, things that are there for a short period of time and they do it annually.
"That's one of the reasons football has a better chance than basketball. Baseball would be another one that would be a problem because of an 80-something game schedule."
Shinn said he has received positive feedback about Oklahoma City from employees, who have said "they've got a great school system, the place is very clean and the people are very nice."
"In New Orleans, you've got high crime, you've got a bad educational system. Because of all the tourists, it's hard to keep the city clean. It's just hard. It's entirely two different markets," Shinn said. "They couldn't survive without tourists. The whole city is built on it, and you're not. You're built to draw people that want to grow families.
"And a couple things impressed me, I'm a person of faith and I love this country. I've seen more flag-wavers here and more people that are God-fearing than any part of the country."
Shinn said he figures a decision about the 2007-08 season would need to be made by December or January, so the team can start selling season tickets.
"I know we'll be here next year," Shinn said. "The year after that, who knows? I don't know the answer to that question. I'm not about to even predict it because I don't know at this point."
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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