New Sonics owner opens talks with Seattle officials

Updated: August 7, 2006, 6:10 PM ET
Associated Press

SEATTLE -- New Seattle SuperSonics and Storm owner Clay Bennett was in the Seattle area on Monday to begin three days of meetings with community leaders and team officials.

A team statement said Bennett was holding a series of "get-acquainted sessions and informal discussions regarding the Sonics and Storm." It called the meetings "the first of many that members of the new ownership group are planning for the ensuing weeks and months."

Bennett, chairman of the Oklahoma City-based Professional Basketball Club LLC, agreed last month to purchase Seattle's NBA and WNBA teams for $350 million from a 58-person ownership group led by Starbucks Corp. chairman Howard Schultz.

Upon announcing the deal, Bennett pledged a concerted effort over the next 12 months with Seattle-area politicians to find a new venue to replace KeyArena. The Sonics and NBA commissioner David Stern have said the team's lease with the downtown arena following a 1995 remodeling is the league's most unfavorable to a team.

Skepticism remains high in Seattle that Bennett will move the Sonics to Oklahoma City following the coming season.

"It is not our intention to move or relocate the teams -- as long, of course, as we are able to negotiate a successor venue to the current basketball arena and arrangements to ensure the Sonics and Storm can succeed," Bennett said on July 18.

Bennett was asked what would happen if he and his partners, who have no known Washington ties, can't reach an agreement in 12 months with local politicians.

"If we weren't able to find a successor facility and relative lease by then, we have the option contractually to ... evaluate our position," Bennett said.

Bennett later said his ownership partners approached the purchase as a business deal, believing Seattle to be one of the great cities in the nation and one of the best sports venues.

Bennett was not happy with Seattle media coverage of the sale. It focused on the possibility of the 40-year-old Sonics, Seattle's oldest major professional sports franchise, moving to Oklahoma.

"I must say I was disappointed with the coverage," he said. "We're serious business people. We all have track records."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press