Sonics arena plan hits another snag
OLYMPIA, Wash. -- An already delayed financing plan for a new $500 million arena for the Seattle SuperSonics won't be ready for lawmakers this week as initially promised.
Last-minute adjustments with cost figures on infrastructure, access and parking were delaying the plan Tuesday, team spokesman Jim Kneeland said.
"Those are the things that have been more challenging," Kneeland said. "We really feel that it's important that we get a handle on those before we start walking in with a single number. That's what we're trying to do."
In a letter to Gov. Chris Gregoire earlier this month, Sonics owner Clay Bennett of Oklahoma City said the teams would ask for at least $300 million in taxpayer money.
Sen. Margarita Prentice, D-Renton and chairwoman of the Ways and Means committee, said Bennett called her Tuesday afternoon to say the plan wouldn't be ready until next week.
"He says they don't have enough definitive elements of the deal," said Prentice, who has spoken highly in favor of helping to finance a new arena for the Sonics. "He wants to get it right."
Kneeland said Bennett was in New York for a Wednesday meeting with the NBA, but that team officials were planning to have a proposal ready for lawmakers early next week.
Bennett has said he hopes to have the building completed in the fall of 2010, which would coincide with the end of the Sonics' current lease at Seattle's KeyArena. The team has been losing money under that lease and Bennett has said it will lose $20 million this season.
Initially a plan was to be presented to lawmakers at the start of the legislative session on Jan. 8. That deadline was later moved to the Jan. 18, and then to Wednesday before Tuesday's announcement of the new delay.
Some lawmakers expressed frustration with the ever-moving target.
"The longer they delay getting us the plan the harder it is for us to even consider their proposal," said House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam. "I can understand that they want to make a good proposal. But we're moving right along here in the session, so it's a shame that they're waiting until, what, the fifth week?"
Kneeland said team officials are sensitive to the time crunch lawmakers face, but want to make sure they present lawmakers with the most comprehensive plan.
"We're working to make sure we have the best answer rather than just the quickest answer," he said. "We are very sensitive to those deadlines and we're trying to find ways to make this work."
Earlier this month, Bennett told The Associated Press that the plan calls for a state-of-the-art arena in the Seattle suburbs that would seat approximately 18,500. It would be built in one of two spots along Interstate 405 -- in Renton across the street from a retail and housing development known as "The Landing," or in Bellevue along a business stretch called "Auto Row."
The new building would house the Sonics, the WNBA Seattle Storm, and events such as concerts and perhaps national political conventions.
The taxpayer share of its cost would come from the King County restaurant and rental-car taxes that helped build Safeco Field for baseball's Seattle Mariners. The Legislature would have to authorize the alternative use of the money.
But if the Legislature doesn't take any action and a new arena is not agreed upon by Oct. 31, a clause in the $350 million purchase contract for the Sonics and Storm that Bennett signed last July allows the team to move to Oklahoma City. Bennett and his seven co-investors in the Sonics and Storm are all prominent residents of Oklahoma City.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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