USA Basketball pursuing new relocation options

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A developer’s financing problems ended plans by USA Basketball to move to Glendale, Ariz., but they likely only slowed the organization’s eventual exodus from the Springs.

USA Basketball Executive Director Jim Tooley said he received inquiries from more than a dozen cities interested in luring away the organization in the days after the news broke about the problems in Glendale. Colorado Springs, however, has made no attempt to convince it to stay, he said.

“Since the Glendale project is on hold or temporarily canceled, we’re free to look at other options,” he said. “The board will have to decide if we wait, or if we move forward with another round of requests for proposals.”

The 2008 decision to move to Glendale was a big blow to the local sports scene.

The organization, headquartered in the Springs for more than 30 years, is one of nearly 30 National Governing Bodies that make their home here. Thousands of people work for these organizations, helping boost the local economy and brand the city as a mecca of amateur sports.

Although USA Basketball employs just 13 people, it was estimated that its new complex in Arizona would have created 324 direct, if temporary, jobs and $26.5 million in tax revenue over 25 years.

The highest profile aspect of USA Basketball comes from its relationship with the NBA and stars like Lebron James and Kobe Bryant. However, it also fosters collegiate, scholastic and youth groups that act as inlets for the organization’s continued growth.

One of the biggest reasons that USA Basketball looked outside of Colorado Springs is its desire for more training space, something Arizona offered last year. Arizona officials promised USA Basketball a new facility if it were to move there. USA Basketball agreed, but developers were unable to finance the deal.

In Colorado Springs, USA Basketball shares its training facilities with other Olympic teams, and that impinges on growth plans Tooley has for his organization.

In the proposed Glendale facility, USA Basketball would have had exclusive, rent-free rights to a $53.8 million complex with a training center, offices, a hotel, a sports medicine clinic and a fitness center. But the developer, HB Equities, was unable to attract investors. It also defaulted on loans it had taken out on other projects .

“In Glendale, we would have had the freedom to run other programs through the facility,” Tooley said. “Ideally what we envision is a basketball center with a number of different branches. There are some things that we just can’t do with the facilities as they exist in Colorado Springs.”

Specifically, Tooley hopes to develop a grassroots program aimed at involving junior high and high school players in the sport. “These things are hard to do in Colorado Springs because of the obligation we have in sharing the facilities with the other sports teams,” he said. “(The U.S. Olympic Committee) has been very fair in getting us what we need, but it would be nice to be able to control our own timing and our own destiny.”

Still, Tooley said that all options are on the table, including the possibility that they might stay.

Tom Osborne, president of The Colorado Springs Sports Corp., said USA Basketball should consider staying because its offices are already here, close to the U.S. Olympic Committee.

“With the Olympic committee here, it’s a great place for any National Governing Body,” he said. “They also have a real asset in the fact that they own their own building, and there were local donations given to them so that they could get into those offices.”

The El Pomar Foundation gave a $100,000 grant to USA Basketball in 1993.

When USA Basketball announced its decision to move to Arizona, some speculated that Jerry Colangelo, the former owner of the Phoenix Suns who now sits on USA Basketball’s Board of Directors, was behind the push.

Tooley said that wasn’t the case because Colangelo wasn’t on the board then. But he is now, and some think he might favor Arizona, too.

He’s done it before and under considerably less intuitive circumstances; in 1996, Colangelo moved the Winnipeg Jets of the National Hockey League to Phoenix.

USA Basketball’s board will meet Nov. 4 to discuss its options. Whatever direction it takes could unfold quickly after that meeting.

USA Basketball began testing the waters with other cities in September 2007 and announced the Glendale decision in November 2008. Having gone through the process once before, Tooley doesn’t think it would take nearly that long the second time around.