Three separate groups of investors who are interested in financing a professional basketball franchise based in Louisville are reportedly expressing a willingness to help pay to bring Freedom Hall up to NBA standards. That cost may be around $150 million, said Jason Rittenberry, president and CEO of Kentucky Venues, the newly rebranded Kentucky State Fair Board. It oversees the state-owned, 60-year-old Freedom Hall situated in the center of the Kentucky Exposition Center.
In a recent interview, Louisville lawyer J. Bruce Miller said he is working with no fewer than three separate investment groups interested in backing Louisville’s effort to secure a pro basketball team. Miller said each of the three groups is aware that two other groups share the Louisville NBA ambition — but they don’t know who the potentially competing investors are. And Miller isn’t disclosing any names at this point.
Miller said one of the three groups actually would prefer playing at Freedom Hall, while the other two would prefer to play at the KFC Yum Center downtown. However, it’s possible a deal might not be viable to play at the Yum Center, where the University of Louisville has dibs on dates, suites and other considerations that the school probably isn’t anxious to relinquish. That leaves Freedom Hall.
Hurling a full-court shot at the city’s NBA dreams, a Metro Council committee unanimously approved a resolution Thursday that seeks to entice the league to consider bringing a franchise to Louisville.
Councilman Dan Johnson, D-21st District, sponsored the non-binding measure and said whether or not the league is looking to expand currently his measure shows potential investors the city is ready to negotiate. At his desk he sat an old Kentucky Colonels basketball from the American Basketball Association that was signed by former players during the nearly hour-long hearing.
Economists have said it would cost at least $1 billion for an individual or groups of investors to buy an NBA franchise. Those experts also said that the KFC Yum! Center’s lease agreement — which has the University of Louisville as the main tenant — would be another obstacle. Daniel Bauer, director of Bellarmine University’s Sports Administration program, said it would cost more than $300 million to convert Freedom Hall out at the Fairground into an NBA-caliber facility.
Louisville Metro Councilman Dan Johnson submitted a revised version of his NBA resolution on Thursday after fellow members and other groups abandoned the initial proposal because it was based on anonymous sources. The new measure says Louisville has a longstanding love affair with basketball that would greatly benefit from a professional franchise. Johnson’s original proposal had said the league was preparing to proceed with expansion based on unnamed sources.