Published January 12th, 2021 at 9:47 AM
City and civic leaders are mounting a full-court press to keep the National Association of Basketball Coaches, a small organization with an outsized role bringing major tournaments worth millions of dollars to downtown, in Kansas City.
The NABC, which was founded in Kansas City, has been approached by Indianapolis, Dallas and other cities to relocate, a prospect that has alarmed civic leaders led by Bill Hall, former executive director of the Hall Family Foundation.
The possible move prompted the City Council last month to approve forgiving an estimated $400,000 in debt associated with the College Basketball Experience, which is run by the NABC Foundation, and pledge $50,000 annually for capital improvements to the CBE in return for a commitment by the NABC to remain here for five years.
“Individuals tell me keeping the NABC here is critical to us being able to continue getting the various basketball tournaments we have every year,” Councilwoman Kathryn Shields told the Council at its Dec. 17 meeting.
“This would be a gesture to them about how important we view their association and continuing the link between our city and national collegiate basketball.”
Although the council approved the incentive package by an 11-2 vote, it’s still uncertain whether it will be enough to keep the NABC here.
“Their board has met this past week, but no decision has been made,” Thomas “Buzz” Willard, president of Tower Properties, said Friday.
Willard is one of the civic leaders, including Hall and attorney Jerry Riffel, who have been lobbying the organization to stay for much of last year and for city officials to become more proactive in keeping them.
NABC officials confirmed a review was underway
“The NABC is currently undergoing a review of its office operations and location and does not have any additional comment at this time,” said Stephanie Whitcher, chief financial officer.
The NABC has its offices at Town Pavilion, and has been downtown since relocating from Overland Park in 2004. Last summer, the organization hired Craig Robinson to replace Jim Haney as its executive director. Haney had that position for 29 years.
Robinson is the brother of former First Lady Michelle Obama. He was the head coach at Oregon State from 2008-14 and his most recent position was on the staff of the New York Knicks NBA team.
The effort to woo the NABC began at least several months ago, and Indianapolis is believed to be pressing hard. That city identifies itself as the country’s hub of amateur sports and famously recruited the NCAA headquarters from Overland Park in 1997.
While the NABC only lists about a dozen employees in its directory, its influence in boosting Kansas City’s reputation as a national college hoops center is large, said Kathy Nelson, executive director of the Kansas City Sports Commission.
“For us as an organization that attracts college basketball events to Kansas City, there’s no better organization than the NABC,” she said.
“When we bring coaches to town and they know this is where the headquarters is, that’s important to us.”
The NABC and its foundation runs the annual Hall of Fame Classic basketball tournament at the T-Mobile Center, an event that Nelson said generates about $1.5 million in economic activity for the city.
The NABC Foundation also operates the College Basketball Experience, the National Collegiate Hall of Fame and the annual Court of Honor Gala, according to the NABC website.
Nelson said the NABC plays an significant role in the city being able to attract and retain other big college basketball events including the NAIA Tournament, NCAA tournament regionals and the Big 12 Men’s Basketball Tournament.
She estimated college basketball events collectively contribute $30 million annually to the local economy.
“They’re an important part of what we do,” she said about the NABC. “Their being able to write a letter on behalf of our community is important.”
During its deliberations last month, council members were told the debt incurred by the NABC was associated with cost overruns that occurred during the construction of the Sprint Center.
The NABC Foundation agreed to assume about $1.2 million of the overrun costs at the request of the city.
At the council meeting, Mayor Quinton Lucas said the amount of revenue brought into the city by the Hall of Fame tournament alone justified forgiving what he estimated as $400,000 in debt.
Shields, who introduce the legislation, said the city offer was a show of good faith to the NABC.
“We’re trying to put ourselves in a position to say you’re important to us,” she said. “They’re getting offers from Indianapolis, Dallas and elsewhere.
“They’re a great institution and we’re lucky to have them here.”
Flatland contributor Kevin Collison is the founder of CityScene KC, an online source for downtown news and issues.