<
>

New Sonics owner: Key Arena won't cut it

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."