New Arena: Thunder To Remain In Oklahoma City Through 2050 And Beyond Pending Voter Approval

Since relocating to Oklahoma City in 2008, the Thunder has been one of the most successful franchises in the NBA in terms of consistently winning games. As the team enters its second iteration following a rebuild, a new arena and commitment to OKC is on the horizon.

On Tuesday afternoon, Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt revealed significant news regarding the future of the Thunder. Pending voter approval, a brand new arena will be built in OKC, which would come with a commitment from the franchise to stay in the city until at least 2050.

The current arena — Paycom Center — is the smallest in the NBA by square footage, has the second-smallest capital investment of all NBA arenas and is one of the oldest in the entire NBA at 21 years old. In its current state, it is not capable of securing a long-term lease with an NBA team.

Over the past year or more, public discussion had been ongoing between the city and the team about what the future looks like.

“We will secure the team for such a time that I can tell you today, the superstar who will play for our city and this arena in the next lease term isn’t even born yet,” said Holt back in July during a State of the City press conference.

The primary topic of conversation had always been around the funding of the arena, more specifically on whether or not this would raise tax rates and how much Thunder ownership would pitch in.

These questions were answered on Tuesday, as it was revealed this new arena will cost at minimum $900 million with ownership contributing $50 million. All three of Oklahoma City’s previous downtown arenas have been paid for entirely by taxpayers, so this is a big step forward.

Furthermore, this project is being funded without increasing taxe rates, which will be a significant factor when Oklahoma City voters make their decision on Dec. 12 of a temporary one-cent sales tax that will not raise taxes and will not increase the city’s current sales tax rate. The temporary tax will start after the conclusion of MAPS 4 , which is a debt-free public improvement program funded by a temporary penny sales tax that will raise a projected $1.1 billion over eight years that is intended to assist in neighborhood and human needs, as well as increase quality of life and job-creating initiatives.

Bigger picture, the City of OKC has clearly defined that the project will be funded primarily through three funding sources:

  • A temporary one-cent sales tax lasting 72 months that will begin after the expiration of the current MAPS 4 one-cent sales tax. The current sales tax rate in Oklahoma City will remain the same as it is today and there will be no tax increase. The method of using sales tax shares the overall tax burden with the many visitors who enjoy events at Oklahoma City’s downtown arena, as it is generally estimated that approximately a quarter of all sales tax in Oklahoma City is paid by non-OKC residents.
  • At least $70 million from MAPS 4 that was previously earmarked for OKC’s downtown arena.
  • A $50 million contribution by the owners of the Oklahoma City Thunder toward the publicly owned arena.

According to the press release, Mayor Holt and City Manager Craig Freeman will formally bring this proposed plan to the City Council on Sep. 26 to officially refer it to the people of OKC for their consideration, which will require a simple majority of the Council to call for the Dec. 12 election, and a simple majority of voters to pass it on that date. Holt and Freeman will also present to the Council on Sep. 26 a letter of intent signed by Oklahoma City Thunder Chairman Clay Bennett, committing the Thunder to play 25 years in the new arena if the December vote is passed and related legal documents are completed.

“For fifteen years the Thunder has been honored to help lead the transformation of Oklahoma City and enhance the tremendous pride our citizens have in their community,” said Bennett in a statement on Tuesday. “We now have an opportunity to build on that progress, advance our status as a true big-league City, continue to grow our economy and secure the long-term future of the Thunder. We look forward to continuing our partnership with Mayor Holt, members of the City Council, and the forward-thinking business and civic leaders in our community. Together we can develop an arena to serve as a crowning achievement in the ongoing renaissance of Oklahoma City.”

The completion of this new arena will yield enormous economic benefits, just as the city saw when the Thunder originally came to OKC back in 2008. Even outside of NBA games, it will be used to host major concerts and events.

Both parties agree that their intent is to open the arena in time for the 2029-2030 NBA season, if not sooner. In the meantime, the franchise will continue playing at Paycom Center while the new arena is designed and constructed, meaning the agreement is that the Thunder will be in Oklahoma City until at least 2050, which is twice the length of the original commitment made in 2008.

As the Thunder enters a new era with a young, rising core and a league leading amount of draft capital, a new arena is on the horizon and a long-term commitment to Oklahoma City is nearly official, pending vote.

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