CHICAGO -- The possible sale of the Minnesota Timberwolves to an out-of-state group could kill a $42 million revenue bond package that would help finance a public buyout of the Target Center stadium in Minneapolis, according to Minnesota officials.
Timberwolves officials late Monday said that a buying group is willing to pay $152.5 million for the team, according to Teri Washington, a spokeswoman for the National Basketball Association. The group wants to move the franchise to New Orleans as part of the deal, Washington said. The association must approve the team's sale and relocation.
Marvin Wolfenson and Harvey Ratner, who own both the Timberwolves and the debt-plagued Target Center where the team plays, have said they seek to sell the team to help eliminate the center's $75 million of privately financed debt. The Timberwolve's owners did not return phone calls.
Upon hearing news about the proposed sale, Gov. Arne Carlson was "upset" and "frustrated," according to Patrick Sexton, his spokesman.
"We all feel like we've been kicked in the teeth," Sexton said. "We showed them loyalty and they showed us nothing."
Earlier this month, Carlson signed into law a bill that allows the issuance of $42 million of bonds to finance a public buyout of the Target Center. Under the law, the current owners or the new team would be required to keep the team in Minneapolis for at least 30 years.
Carlson will meet this week with NBA commissioner David Stern to determine if anything can be done to keep the Timberwolves in Minneapolis, or to ensure that the city is first in line for the next expansion team, Sexton said.
If nothing can be done to keep the Timberwolves in Minneapolis, the law authorizing the public buyout of the Target Center could be moot, Sexton said.
The potential buying group that would move the Timberwolves to New Orleans reportedly includes former Houston Mayor Fred Hofheinz, Houston attorney John O'Quinn, and Bob Arum, a boxing promoter. Hofheinz and O'Quinn did not return phone calls. Arum could not be reached for comment.
A five-member NBA committee has until the end of July to approve the relocation. Once that occurs, 21 of the 27 basketball franchise, owners that comprise the association's board of governors must approve the sale.
In a statement, Stern said that Wolfenson, and Ratner received "substantial" offers from potential buyers willing to keep the team in Minnesota. "Regrettably, they decided against accepting these offers," Stern said.
In addition to the Target Center's $75 million of privately financed debt, about $23 million of tax increment finance district debt was issued by the Minneapolis Community Development Agency to help construct the stadium. The $23 million is being paid off with $3 million of the stadium's annual real estate taxes, according to Target Center officials.
The potential sale of the team does not directly harm Minnesota or Minneapolis because most of the Target Center's debt was private. However, the local economy stands to lose millions of dollars generated as a result of the team being based in Minneapolis, according to state officials.
If the NBA approves the proposed sale, the Timberwolves would be the second basketball team and the third sports franchise that Minneapolis has lost. The Lakers moved to Los Angeles in 1960, and last year the North Stars hockey team relocated to Dallas.
Sexton said Minneapolis may have lost its last opportunity for professional basketball. "I doubt we'll see basketball here again," he said.
But Minneapolis' misfortune would mean a second chance in basketball for New Orleans. In 1979, the Jazz left New Orleans for Utah.