KeyArena could still be profitable — with some financial help
Seattle Times staff reporter
If the Sonics end up leaving Seattle, KeyArena could still make a profit, as long as the city invests $20 million in upgrades.
According to a recent study commissioned by Seattle Center, the upgrades would help the city-owned arena attract a new mix of concerts, ice-skating shows and spiritual gatherings to replace the Sonics and Storm games, which make up 40 percent of the arena's events.
KeyArena will continue to lose money during the next 15 years because of debt from its 1994 remodel, whether the Sonics stay or go.
But a Sonics-free arena could pull in between $1.9 million and $3.1 million in profits each year after the debt is paid off, according to the study. It also said that if the Sonics and Storm stay, the arena would make $4.7 million in profits after the debt is paid off.
"The data we looked at suggests that if the Sonics are in a different part of the country, which it looks like they'll be, the arena has a chance of being self-supporting," said Bryce Seidl, a member of the mayor's Seattle Center task force and president and chief executive of the Pacific Science Center.
Seidl agreed with Sonics owners, led by Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz, who argued that $200 million in upgrades were needed to stay competitive with other NBA venues.
The new owners from Oklahoma City on Tuesday said they would work for 12 months to negotiate for an improved KeyArena and lease agreement there.
Many City Council members said Tuesday they were ready to move on without the Sonics.
"I'm sorry to see them leave but I think we just have to figure out how to make a decent omelet out of broken eggs," said Councilman Richard McIver. "The silver lining is that they're moving out of the city and not to Bellevue or Renton, which could create competition for the facility."
Council President Nick Licata — who earlier this year told Sports Illustrated the Sonics' cultural value was "close to zero" — said the team's departure could have implications for all of Seattle Center, which is home to KeyArena. He plans to resuscitate a proposal to make the money-losing center financially stable by extending hotel, car rental, sales and restaurant taxes. Those taxes are currently dedicated to debts at Safeco and Qwest fields.
Nearby businesses say a Sonics exit would hurt their bottom line.
Bret Sanborn, kitchen manager at Floyd's Place restaurant and bar on First Avenue North, said it would be "impactful, but not the end of the world." Floyd's still pulls in crowds to watch football broadcasts, he said.
The manager of Ozzie's Restaurant & Bar on Mercer Street says his business could "maybe" lose $100,000 a year without the Sonics. He hires extra staff to work game nights, which he would no longer need.
"If you have a teenybopper concert [at KeyArena], they aren't 21 and over," said Wesley Moore Jr. "They'll come in for food but they can't come in after and party."
Besides, he said, not having the team around will kill the neighborhood flavor.
"Shawn Kemp used to come into Ozzie's. Ray Allen gets his nails done in our building," Moore said.
Sharon Pian Chan: 206-464-2958 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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