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New arena, Bay Center upgrades among options for Pensacola’s G League basketball bid

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A massive downtown development featuring an 80,000 square foot event and convention center, 6,000 seat arena, and seven-story hotel is being proposed as part of a plan to bring an NBA minor league basketball team to Pensacola.


Pensacola is one of two finalists — the other being Shreveport, La. — competing to be the home for the New Orleans Pelicans’ new NBA G League team, set to begin play in 2018 or 2019.

Hotelier and developer Jay Patel pitched the ambitious development in a meeting held Wednesday with Pelicans executive Stephen Pate, Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward, and other area officials. The proposal is an evolution of an earlier concept proposed by officials from Visit Pensacola and Pensacola Sports to county officials last year.

The 19-acre Main Street property is the largest vacant property in downtown Pensacola. (Drew Buchanan/The Pulse)

The $80-100 million project would represent one of the largest single projects in Pensacola history, constructed through a public-private partnership that would include both private investment and an undetermined public component.

Patel’s preferred site is the 18-acre Main Street property formerly owned by the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority and purchased by developer Quint Studer in 2015. The 12-acre Pensacola Bay Center site would serve as a backup location, Patel said. A conceptual site plan distributed at the meeting depicted an arena, “event center and field house,” and “hotel and retail” areas along with two parking decks and surface parking lots.

A new arena isn’t a requirement set forth by the Pelicans, and Pelicans officials have repeatedly stressed that they’re not asking for one to be built, noting that community support will be a larger factor in their decision. However, Shreveport Mayor Ollie Tyler has also proposed a new downtown arena as part of that city’s bid for the Pelicans’ G League team.

Hayward on Thursday stressed that the proposal is at an early, conceptual stage and many details, including financing, have yet to be worked out.

“No one has talked about really any kind of concept of financing, except the fact that the county commission would have to vote to approve any kind of financing that they would support, whether that’s the Bay Center or whether that’s this multi-purpose development,” Hayward said.

“All these conversations are preliminary,” he added. “This is simply one option.”

Another option would be to refurbish the 32-year-old Pensacola Bay Center, which already owns a hardwood basketball court but would require some upgrades to meet NBA G League standards. Home to the Ice Flyers hockey team, concerts, and other special events, the Bay Center runs a deficit of about $1.2 million every year.

Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward, left, and hotelier Jay Patel in 2013. (City of Pensacola/Special to The Pulse)

“The citizens and voters are not naive,” Hayward said. “They know that stadiums and parks are not profit centers in the traditional sense. They create the energy and ambiance for redevelopment and growth.”

Those hoping to bring NBA G League basketball to Pensacola should make their voices heard, Hayward said.

“I think the locals need to get behind it, and express to their elected officials what they want to see,” said Hayward. “They have an opportunity to have a big voice in this.”

The Pelicans reached out to Hayward in March and invited Pensacola to submit a proposal for the opportunity, along with a half-dozen other cities. Hayward traveled to New Orleans in June to present Pensacola’s proposal, which outlined the facilities available at the county-owned Pensacola Bay Center. Team officials visited Pensacola later that month, meeting with Hayward, Patel, and others and attending a Blue Wahoos baseball game.