The Charlotte-based proposal to buy the Hornets is near completion and will be unveiled by the end of next week, the man leading the effort to keep the team in Charlotte said Wednesday.
That announcement will include names of a would-be buyer or buyers, venture capitalist Nelson Schwab said.
Schwab emphatically rejected speculation that a proposal to buy the team from George Shinn and Ray Wooldridge does not exist.
"I wouldn't be spending all this time on this issue if it wasn't out there," he said.
Schwab acknowledged feeling pressure with the approach of an early April NBA vote on whether to allow the Hornets to move to New Orleans.
"The meter's running here," he said.
Sources have said the National Basketball Association needs to see a new arena deal, a profitable lease and an offer of at least $200 million for the team to consider turning down Shinn and Wooldridge's requested move. The issue will be decided by a majority vote of representatives of the NBA's 29 teams, expected to occur at an April 8-9 meeting of the league Board of Governors.
A relocation committee of seven owners will make a recommendation before that vote.
Names remain secret
The Charlotte City Council approved a plan for a $231 million uptown arena Feb. 11. Two days later, business leaders launched a "Let's Take Back the Game" campaign, with the slogan "New Arena; New Owners; New Spirit."However, the names of those would-be new owners remain a secret.
On Wednesday, Schwab declined to discuss how many people may be involved in an ownership proposal, who they are, and how much they might offer.
Schwab said the secrecy and delays are due to the sensitive nature of the task.
"You're trying to buy an asset that is controlled by two individuals (Shinn and Wooldridge) who have publicly said they don't want to sell and have made an application to move the asset to another city," Schwab said.
"I think there are a lot of issues to work through," he added. "There are legal and other issues ... and we're getting through those as diligently as we can."
A spokesman for Wooldridge could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Shinn and Wooldridge can void their contract to move the team to Louisiana if the Hornets do not receive deposits for 52 luxury suites and 10,450 season tickets there by March 15. As of Friday, the team was less than halfway to both targets.
McDavid, Smith not involved
Schwab said Texas auto dealer David McDavid, former part-owner of the Dallas Mavericks, and Charlotte motor sports billionaire Bruton Smith, who wants to buy the Orlando Magic and move them to Charlotte to replace the Hornets, are not currently involved in the ownership proposal. Both men have been the subject of speculation that they could be prospective Hornets buyers.
Schwab said Smith would be welcome as a potential buyer, but that the Speedway Motorsports head appears focused on buying the Magic.
Smith has said Shinn backed out of an agreement the two had for Smith to buy the Hornets for $130 million in 1997.
Schwab said that even if Smith does buy the Magic, the team could not move here until 2003 at the earliest. The team was offered for sale last month and has not begun taking offers. The NBA has said it would like the Magic to remain in Florida.
"That's a longer-term strategy, and I think we have to put our best foot forward in the short term, as it relates to the relocation to New Orleans," Schwab said.
As for McDavid, who tried unsuccessfully to buy the Denver Nuggets after selling his Mavericks stake, Schwab said his last conversation with the car dealer was a year ago.
Charlotte's future in mind
Schwab helped restart the arena debate in January, brokering an offer by Wachovia, Bank of America and Duke Energy to front the city $100 million for construction of an arena. In exchange, the businesses would receive $50 million in city-owned land and up to $50 million in revenues from marketing arena-related rights such as premium seat deposits and naming privileges.
Schwab said he has spent a lot of time on the phone in recent weeks, trying to finish the ownership proposal even as he attended the Winter Olympics in Utah.
He said his primary interest has been to do something good for Charlotte.
"Fortunately, people care about their communities," he said. "A lot of people have done things like that in this city in the past."
Schwab, who heads the Carousel Capital firm, said he has put his regular work on hold during the Hornets effort.
"I'm juggling things," he said. "Fortunately, I have partners who bring in some money."
He does not expect to take even a small stake in the Hornets' ownership if they stay in Charlotte.
"I've been so involved in it, that might be viewed as a conflict," he said. "That (ownership) isn't that important to me."