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Warriors could be a slam dunk for S.F. economy

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San Francisco is a world-class city, but it will be losing major prestige in the sports world when the 49ers move to Santa Clara in two years. Unfortunately, there’s not much city officials can do to stop the football team’s exodus. But they can cushion the blow and regain some of that lost prestige by luring the Warriors back to San Francisco.

From 1962 to 1971, the basketball team was known as the San Francisco Warriors and played in the Cow Palace and Civic Auditorium. The Warriors have won three NBA championships and boast 18 Hall of Famers, including Wilt “The Stilt” Chamberlain, who scored 100 points against the New York Knicks 50 years ago March 2 when the team was in Philadelphia.

While the team has struggled in recent years, it’s currently playing exciting basketball, boasting one of the best backcourts in the league with Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry. The Warriors will be challenged once again this year to make the playoffs, but things are picking up under the leadership of new coach Mark Jackson. On Wednesday, they snapped a 13-game losing streak in Phoenix.

One of the downsides of the franchise, however, is that it plays in Oracle Arena, which was built in 1966 and is the oldest venue in the NBA. Although it was upgraded in the 1990s, the facility suffers from a drab location with no surrounding restaurants or bars for fans to repair to afterward to celebrate a victory or drown their sorrow after a loss.

The new owners, Joe Lacob and Peter Guber, are interested in providing a new home for the team, possibly near AT&T Park, in time for the 2017-18 season. The owners haven’t ruled out building a new arena in Oakland, but we hope Mayor Ed Lee and the supervisors can provide the incentives to make locating in China Basin a no-brainer.

Obviously, the cash-strapped city budget will not be able to finance the arena. Even if it could, San Francisco voters twice rejected public financing of AT&T Park, and would likely do so again for the Warriors arena. Lee affirmed this recently in reference to the Warriors: “It’s their private investments that have to be laid out there.”

But officials can help the franchise cut through The City’s notoriously thick red tape to expedite the convoluted approval process. Perhaps some development fees can be reduced, deferred or waived. San Francisco’s economy will more than recoup those fees when hundreds of thousands of people attend 41 regular-season games, along with the preseason and perhaps playoffs. The arena could also be used for NCAA basketball, concerts, tennis, indoor football, ice skating, hockey and more.

The opening of HP Pavilion in San Jose in 1993 transformed that city’s downtown, attracting 25 million people to 3,000 events. AT&T Park has performed the same economic miracle with at least 81 baseball games each year for Mission Bay restaurants, bars and businesses. It’s time to get that excitement going year-round, the proverbial win-win.