Local group makes pitch to buy Sonics
Seattle Times staff reporter
A former minority owner of the Sonics and Storm says he has put together a local group that wants to buy the teams back from Clay Bennett to keep them in Seattle.
Dennis Daugs, who owns a Seattle investment-management firm, sent a letter to Bennett on Thursday saying he represents the potential buyers, including other former part-owners, who want to return the teams to local ownership and keep them playing at KeyArena.
It is not clear how much cash is behind the effort or whether Bennett — who says the teams aren't for sale — will respond.
In an interview, Daugs would not say who is in the group, or even how many people are involved. But Daugs said the group has the financial wherewithal to pull off a deal if Bennett is willing to sell.
By publicizing the buyers' interest now, Daugs said he wants to fight "the current belief that there are no other options" to keep the teams in Seattle. He cited pessimistic comments from NBA Commissioner David Stern, who told ESPN this week he didn't see "anything keeping [the Sonics] in Seattle" after the team's KeyArena lease expires in 2010.
"We present this as another option if Mr. Bennett at some point would like to sell," Daugs said.
Bennett hasn't changed his mind about selling the teams, a spokesman said, refusing to comment on Daugs' letter.
The deadline Bennett gave local politicians for securing an arena deal passed Wednesday. He is expected today to announce his next steps, which could include asking the NBA for permission to relocate the teams to Oklahoma City.
Other local business leaders also are widely rumored to be interested in buying the teams, but none has stepped forward publicly. Daugs said his group was interested in talking with other prospective buyers to possibly join forces.
Daugs, 45, is managing director of Lakeside Capital Management, a firm that provides investment advice for "high-net-worth individuals and families," according to the company's Web site. He also is on the board of Puget Sound Bank and was an early investor in Homegrocer.com.
Daugs said he alone doesn't have the money to buy the Sonics and Storm. He owned just a small slice of the teams under the former 58-member local ownership group led by Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz.
Daugs invested $500,000 in Schultz's group as part of a partnership with other local businessmen called We Got Game LLC, according to records. The group, which invested a total of $6.5 million, also included real-estate adviser Craig Kinzer and Richard Tait, developer of the board game Cranium.
Schultz's group paid $200 million for the teams in 2001 and sold them last year to Bennett and a group of Oklahoma businessmen for $350 million.
Daugs characterized his new group's interest in buying the team as driven more by civic pride and love of basketball than a desire for financial gain.
"It can be a great investment, it can be a poor investment or something in between, but it is the most fun a lot of people I know have ever had," said Daugs, who grew up in Burien and used to take the bus to Sonics games at Seattle Center as a kid. His group wants to maintain that tradition.
Daugs' letter to Bennett said, "we believe that it is possible to operate these teams from their current KeyArena location and would be interested in exploring ... extending the current lease past the 2010 obligation."
Bennett has said KeyArena is unacceptable even with a major expansion, and has pushed for a new arena elsewhere.
Only one other potential investor in Daugs' group was willing to comment publicly Thursday. H.S. Wright III also was a part-owner of the Sonics during the Schultz years.
Wright, chief executive of Seattle Hospitality Group, said he would consider buying into the Sonics and Storm again if it helped keep the teams in town.
A spokesman for Daugs said he was walking a tricky line by coming forward now, but not revealing any information about his partners.
"This is a group of successful entrepreneurs who do not want to be in the public limelight," said Roger Nyhus. "The reason they wanted to make this public is that the general public has written the teams off, and that's not right."
While the city and Sonics are locked in a federal lawsuit over the KeyArena lease, political leaders in recent weeks have hinted there are efforts under way for a new arena deal and new local owners for the Sonics and Storm.
Seattle Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis, who was notified of Daugs' offer Thursday, said it was a positive step.
"I think he is credible. I think he is serious," Ceis said.
Ceis refused to say whether the mayor's office had been in touch with other prospective local buyers.
"This may be the beginning — the public beginning — of an effort to look at a new local ownership group," he said.
Times news researcher Gene Balk contributed to this report.
Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or email@example.com
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