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Spurs May Get New Arena

The Spurs have brought the NBA Finals to San Antonio, only to have the basketball championship series played in a football stadium.

Home for the Spurs is the Alamodome.

At least for the moment.

It's a cavernous place where seats are plentiful and tickets are cheap by NBA standards. The Spurs would like to move into another more profitable facility as soon as possible.

Winning the NBA Finals over the New York Knicks could ultimately help the franchise -- the only major league sports team in town -- gain public support for a new taxpayer-funded arena.

That could prevent the Spurs from leaving town, something team owners insist they don't plan to do but a reality in the big-money world of sports that can't be ignored.

Â"We want to stay in San Antonio,Â" Spurs chairman Peter Holt said. Â"We're going to do everything we can to make that happen.Â"

Hardly a glamour team cheered on by celebrities, the San Antonio Spurs are an unconventional squad struggling to survive in a blue-collar city. They're a team searching for national identity and local respect. Nothing underscores that more than the Spurs' arena predicament.

After playing in the old HemisFair Arena, built in the late 1960s, the Spurs of the former American Basketball Association moved into the new Alamodome in 1993 with the idea it would be a temporary arrangement.

Moving out hasn't been easy.

In the Alamodome, a giant indoor stadium that can seat up to 65,000 for football, the basketball court is located at one end of the facility with a massive blue curtain blocking off the rest of the building.

Up to 40,000 can be seated for a basketball game if all the dome's upper decks are open. Sometimes seats near the rafters are sold for $5 or $8.

Team executives have floated ideas for using tax money to help build a smaller arena built for basketball and equipped with lucrative luxury suites, something the Spurs contend they need to profit in the NBA and to pay the big contract second-year star Tim Duncan will soon require.

This past year the Spurs and private developers pushed an arena plan that would use tax-increment financing -- property taxes on new development in a specified zone -- to finance a new $157 million basketball facility in an abandoned limestone quarry. The Spurs pledged to chip in $20 million.

The North East School District, the taxing entity that would have had to come up with the bulk of the funding, balked, saying school children's money shouldn't be put toward a private sports business. The plan died.

Meanwhile, other cities with basketball arenas and no team, such as Nashville and New Orleans, eye the Spurs.

Just last week Holt was pressed by reporters about whether the franchise has talked to Baltimore about a move. Holt would not say he'd spoken with Baltimore officials but confirmed a number of cities remain interested.

Moving away could b financially tempting.

In San Antonio, the Spurs are in the No. 37 television market, the smallest in the league.

The franchise must depend on individuals and a few corporations for profits because of the dearth of major companies here.

The Spurs have always been careful with costs.

Even into the early 1990s, the team took commercial flights to keep its budget low. David Robinson, the 7-foot-1 star center who sometimes had to crouch into a coach seat, wrote a letter to the then-owner requesting that the Spurs spring for charters.

Robinson gave the local newspaper a copy of the letter to publish. Charter flights soon commenced.

It's widely believed in San Antonio that a new arena plan will emerge after the NBA Finals. Holt and others connected with the team have indicated the Spurs need to get a proposition before the voters by January.

If the way the city is reacting to the NBA Finals is any indication, support for the Spurs that once was confined to diehard sports fans now is infecting the mainstream.

The players feel the enthusiasm. Now that the Spurs know they'll face New York, no less, an almost giddy attitude prevails.

Â"We know that there are going to be stars and people in the stands. We know it's Madison Square Garden,Â" Spurs forward Sean Elliott said of the road games.

Â"The guys are getting excited with all the hype,Â" added guard Mario Elie, a New York native. Â"Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Puff Daddy, everybody's going to be at the games. So it's going to be nice.Â"

Those sentiments seems to reflect that of the entire city, where Spurs souvenir stands are popping up on street corners and motorists are decorating their car windows with Spurs logos using white shoe polish.

Â"We've got a chance to do something special for San Antonio,Â" Elie said. "This is a great situation.Â"

©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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