"I endorse the efforts of the sports authority and the city to build a new multipurpose arena in the downtown community," McNair said in a statement.
The Harris County-Houston Sports Authority and the Houston Rockets signed an agreement four weeks ago to share costs of the $175 million arena, with most revenue generated by the building flowing to team owner Leslie Alexander, a Boca Raton, Fla., businessman.
Last November, voters rejected a $160 million arena deal by a vote of 55 percent to 45 percent. Therefore, the Rockets said they would grant their permission for a Nov. 7 referendum only if four key public opinion leaders pledged not to oppose the new deal.
McNair is the second of those four to back the deal; Harris County Judge Robert Eckels is the first, having offered a qualified endorsement last week after the Rockets made some changes to their proposed deal. The other leaders whose blessing is sought are Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt and minor-league hockey team owner Chuck Watson.
A referendum must be set by Sept. 8.
The deal must also be approved by the Houston City Council, which would be expected to contribute no more than $20 million to the arena's cost.
McNair and the sports authority in 1999 came to terms on building a retractable-roof football stadium for the new franchise, which is slated to begin play in 2002. The sports authority agreed to pay $195 million for design and construction; McNair and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo would pay the balance.
In December, projected stadium costs jumped by $57 million from $310 million, causing some authority members to fear the football stadium would threaten basketball arena financing.