Local investors buying 25 percent of the Hornets Print
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Tuesday, 24 July 2007 16:58
NBA Headline News

 NEW ORLEANS (AP) -New Orleans Hornets owner George Shinn has agreed to sell 25 percent of his NBA franchise to a family-owned investor group led by south Louisiana businessman Gary Chouest.
Shinn introduced Chouest, owner of a Galliano, La.-based offshore supply company, at a dinner hosted by the team Tuesday night. And Shinn hailed his new partner's involvement as proof that the Hornets were serious about becoming a long-term fixture in this recovering city.
``I need somebody that has roots here, that has a business here, that has connections here, that's going to fight for it the same way I do, that's going to help me sell tickets,'' Shinn said of his new minority partner. ``He's got a skin in the game now. He's going to do it. That's what we need to make this thing work. It's not just money.''
The new owner is a group called Slam Dunk, owned by Chouest and his family. Chouest and his sons played basketball in their youth and remain passionate about the game. Chouest has been a season-ticket holder, sitting near courtside, since the Hornets moved to New Orleans from Charlotte in 2002.
Chouest said that while he is confident he will get a decent return on his investment, he said he wanted to give something back to the state that helped his company, Edison Chouest Offshore, become one of the most successful businesses of its kind.
``I want to do something for our community, for our area, for our city, for south Louisiana,'' Chouest said. ``It's up to the people who sort of live off the land to invest in it, where we have something here that's going to be a magnet to attract other large businesses and keep them here. I think any large city without professional sports teams are extremely limited in attracting industry and attracting and holding large companies.
``I know the Hornets organization will be successful in New Orleans, and I can't wait until that first game and tip-off.''
Edison Chouest Offshore's boats and barges ferry supplies and people to offshore oil and gas rigs and platforms.
Shinn has been seeking investors to reduce a large debt from buying out former minority partner Ray Wooldridge in January 2005.
According to recent surveys by Forbes magazine, the Hornets are worth around $248 million, meaning a one-quarter share would run around $62 million.
Shinn and Chouest declined to discuss the precise figure of their deal, which Shinn said technically was still a ``handshake agreement'' until a small amount of legal work is ironed out.
Shinn said he has kept NBA officials up to date on his negotiations with Chouest and that the league gave the go-ahead for the pair to make their new partnership public.
The Hornets are returning this fall to New Orleans for a full 41-game home schedule for the first time since being displaced to Oklahoma City by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. The Hornets have played only nine regular-season games in New Orleans since the storm.
The Hornets' lease at the New Orleans Arena runs through 2012, and Shinn has said he would like to extend it if fan support is strong and if the state fulfills its promise to build the team a new training headquarters.
The state's bond commission is expected later this year to review a request from the state Legislature and governor's office to supply up to $18 million to build a training facility that would be attached to the arena.
The City of New Orleans already has about $6 million set aside for the project as part of the agreement that brought the Hornets to New Orleans.
During the 2004-05 season, the Hornets' were last in the NBA in attendance, but also were among the worst teams in the league then, winning only 18 games.
Next season, the Hornets are expected to be a playoff contender and have new corporate sponsors, including Cadbury Schweppes Americas Beverages and Capital One Financial Corp., which have made several-year, multimillion dollar commitments in support of the franchise's return to the rebuilding Gulf Coast.
Shinn said he also is continuing to negotiate with several other Louisiana-based business owners who are interested in each buying about 5 percent shares of the team. However, Shinn said he intended to retain at least a 51 percent controlling stake in the team and probably more than that.
 

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