New Sonics owner: Key Arena won't cut it

Updated: August 9, 2006, 6:32 PM ET
Associated Press

SEATTLE -- New Seattle SuperSonics owner Clay Bennett toured Safeco Field this week, believing the $517 million baseball stadium should be the model for what an NBA arena in the Puget Sound region can be.

In its present state, KeyArena, the SuperSonics current home, doesn't fit that definition, Bennett told a Wednesday news conference.

"As we've said before, we don't believe KeyArena is a satisfactory facility," he said.

Bennett made his first trip to Seattle since buying the Sonics and WNBA Storm from the Basketball Club of Seattle on July 18 for $350 million. When Bennett bought the team he said that whether the Sonics remain in Seattle would depend on whether the team can agree with the city to renovate KeyArena, or replace it with another arena in the region.

Bennett, chairman of the Oklahoma City-based Professional Basketball Club LLC, said his group is not ruling out a possible remodel of KeyArena, but made clear he'd rather put together a "world-class" sports and entertainment complex on a yet to be determined site.

"That's the idea we have in mind, the development of the finest building in the world. Where that ends up, I don't know," Bennett said. "We want to develop that profile ... and everything in our minds today is on the table."

While in Seattle, Bennett met with local and civic leaders, including Mayor Greg Nickels. He also met with Gov. Chris Gregoire on Wednesday afternoon, before returning to Oklahoma City.

"He envisions a world-class, multipurpose facility which I believe is good for our communities and our state," Gregoire said in a statement. "Mr. Bennett assured me that he and his partners will present a business plan to the public and decision-makers so that we can work together to keep the teams in our state."

Nickels expressed the city's desire to keep the Sonics at KeyArena and said previous offers for a remodel are still available.

"The deal offered to the previous ownership group is still on the table," Nickels said.

KeyArena was remodeled in 1994-95 and the Sonics have a lease until 2010 with the city. The team and NBA commissioner David Stern both have said that lease is the league's most unfavorable to a team and must be changed -- or better yet, a new place must be built with a new lease -- for the teams to prosper in the region.

Two groups Bennett did not meet with were officials from the cities of Bellevue and Renton, both eastern suburbs of Seattle and considered the front-runners for landing the franchise if it moved from Seattle and stayed in the area. Bennett has held phone conversations with leaders from both cities.

Bellevue developer Kemper Freeman Jr. was trying to arrange a meeting before Bennett left town, but it did not fit into Bennett's schedule. The two sides are hoping to meet next time Bennett is in town.

Bennett also met with Sonics' All-Star Ray Allen and reassured current Sonics' employees that the focus is on keeping the team in Seattle.

Bennett wants his group to take the initiative on developing a plan for a new arena complex that would include restaurant and retail development. Bennett is working aggressively, compiling a group of public affairs, real estate and legal experts to put together a plan.

He hopes to have an outline for what the complex would entail and a potential site by the end of the year.

All of that would be under a 12-month deadline Bennett set when he bought the team. That statement only fueled speculation that Bennett eventually wants to move the Sonics to Oklahoma City.

"It's going to be our job to model that and understand the economic framework and present that," Bennett said. "And we can begin to understand with the relevant constituent groups what the business relationship can be and what the deal looks like.

"Hopefully, if we're successful, we all agree."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press