Sonics | Investors float plans, work on legislators to keep NBA
Seattle Times staff reporters
A new group of private investors willing to buy the Sonics or another NBA franchise for Seattle is working through Mayor Greg Nickels' office to gain support for the plan in Olympia.
But key state lawmakers described the proposal as vague and unlikely to pass before the Legislature adjourns in two weeks.
While many details remained hazy Friday, sources said the plan centers on a possible $300 million renovation of KeyArena, which would be split 50-50 between the unidentified private investors and taxpayers. The public portion would be split between the city and state.
Such a private contribution would be substantially more than previously offered by successive Sonics ownership groups that have sought taxpayer money for KeyArena or a new arena in Renton.
It is not clear whether the latest plan has any realistic chance of keeping the Sonics in Seattle.
Sonics owner Clay Bennett has repeatedly said the team is not for sale. He has petitioned the NBA for permission to move the franchise to his hometown of Oklahoma City. And NBA Commissioner David Stern has said Seattle won't get another team if the Sonics leave.
State legislators so far are unmoved by what they've heard about Seattle's latest proposal.
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said she was recently briefed by Seattle Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis, but she was not given details or dollar amounts. She said Ceis appeared to be "taking the temperature" of the Legislature, but that she doesn't see an arena package emerging from the Senate this late in the session.
House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, described what he'd heard of the proposal as "very vague and very tenuous."
Marty Brown, Gov. Christine Gregoire's chief lobbyist, said Seattle officials were pitching a "variety of scenarios" but offered no opinion on whether any had political momentum.
King County Executive Ron Sims, who met with Nickels on Wednesday, told various media outlets Thursday that he'd heard about three potential ownership groups interested in keeping the NBA in Seattle. But he said their plans would probably include luring a new NBA team after the Sonics leave for Oklahoma City.
Sims also criticized the strategy employed by Seattle officials, who have filed a lawsuit seeking to bind the Sonics to KeyArena through the end of the team's lease in 2010. That lawsuit is set for trial in June, and the city recently rejected Bennett's $26.5 million settlement offer to end the lease early.
Brian Robinson, co-founder of the fan group Save Our Sonics and Storm, said the efforts by Nickels' office are a positive sign. The apparent offer by private investors to pay half the cost of a KeyArena expansion, he said, is "an unprecedented private commitment to see the right thing happen in Seattle."
Last year, Bennett offered $100 million toward a proposed $500 million arena in Renton. In 2006, the ownership group led by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz offered the $18.3 million toward a $220 million proposal to renovate KeyArena.
King County Councilmember Pete von Reichbauer, an active supporter of the Sonics who worked on the stadium deal for the Seahawks, cautioned Sonics fans not to get their hopes up before knowing details about Seattle's latest proposal.
"There is a lot of wishful thinking here, but wishful thinking does not save the Sonics," said von Reichbauer, R-Federal Way.
The latest move by Seattle officials may be an effort to show the NBA there is support for pro basketball here.
Voters in Oklahoma City will decide Tuesday whether to approve a 1 cent sales tax to fund a $120 million renovation of that city's Ford Center arena to lure the Sonics.
By contrast, voters in Seattle passed an initiative in 2006 restricting city subsidies for professional sports teams. And Sonics supporters have failed for three years to win legislative support for a taxpayer contribution to a new or renovated basketball arena.
Next month, the NBA's Board of Governors is expected to vote on whether to approve the Sonics' request to move.
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