Growing opposition against proposed basketball arena in Norman

NORMAN, Okla. - A proposed basketball arena is under fire by many in the city who are unhappy with how the city would help pay for it.

The Lloyd Noble Center could soon be replaced as the home of OU basketball by a new arena planned for the undeveloped section of University North Park. The basketball teams would be anchored there, but the arena would be used by the city for other events as well.

“Compared to what other Big 12 universities have or frankly other universities across country, it’s outdated,” said Norman Chamber of Commerce President Scott Martin.

The area surrounding the arena would be developed into other entertainment venues, residential, retail, and industrial/office space. Supporters of the project insist it would help bring in and keep people in the city by creating more jobs and contributing to the quality of life.

“The whole idea behind it is to provide an opportunity between the arena, the entertainment district, to give people an opportunity to have a live, work, play environment,” Martin said. “Start a family, grow their career, and grow their life here in Norman.”

But the OU Foundation is asking the city to help foot the bill - $107 million in tax increment financing (TIF) money. The money would go towards the arena as well as infrastructure around the area. It wouldn’t come out of the general fund, part of the future taxes that are generated by the arena and the surrounding development would be used to pay off that $107 million to investors.

Supporters say the TIF is low-risk for the city, and the undeveloped land isn’t generating tax revenue at all when it could be. They also argue that the first TIF development that already sits on part of University North Park helps bring $800,000 to Norman public schools as long as the TIF is in place. A second TIF district could double that number.

But a growing number of people in the city say this is a bad investment for a city that’s already marching toward a deficit.

“It is likely to have a negative fiscal impact on the city,” said OU professor Ben Alpers. “We already have a structural budged deficit which may grow.”

Alpers argues that the TIF project doesn’t create new revenue, but moves already existing revenue from one part of the city into another.

“University North Park has economic activity flourishing, but where is that activity coming from?” said Alpers. “It’s coming from other parts of town.”

He points out that the tax revenue generated by money spent elsewhere would all go to the city, but part of the tax revenue generated at University North Park does and would continue to go to TIF, to pay off the city’s end of its construction.

“If the OU Foundation really wanted to do this, they can do it with their own money,” Alpers said.

Alpers acknowledged that the schools do get more funding when the TIF is in place, but insists there are other ways the city can generate that money for its schools.

The bottom line, that there are other ways the city should be thinking about spending money.

“Not enough skepticism, and not a broad enough sense of what we might be doing with our resources to improve Norman as best we can,” Alpers said.

Mayor Lynne Miller said the city council has not yet scheduled a vote on the project. It could be scheduled as late as September.