Bill seeks authorization to use taxes for new arena

Updated: February 5, 2007, 9:23 PM ET
Associated Press

SEATTLE -- The SuperSonics still don't have a new arena site. They also don't have parking, access or exact cost plans figured out for a $500 million, multipurpose palace in the Seattle suburbs.

But that's not stopping the NBA team and its biggest supporter in the Legislature from introducing a bill that they hope will speed things along.

Sen. Margarita Prentice, D-Renton and chairwoman of the Ways and Means committee, said she hoped to have a measure ready by Tuesday that would authorize King County to approve a new arena for Seattle's NBA team and its WNBA partner, the Storm. The bill would also address the taxpayer share of the cost, which Sonics owner Clay Bennett has told Gov. Chris Gregoire would need to be "at least" $300 million.

"Time's a'wasting," Prentice said Monday of her decision to present a bill before the Sonics have produced their plan.

Lawmakers have "only been hearing words. They needed to see a bill. And we can revise it as we go," she said.

Prentice and a Sonics spokesman confirmed that Bennett will attend a hearing in Olympia on Feb. 13. But the team cannot confirm Bennett will have a site and a final plan to lawmakers before then.

"We would hope to be done by the 13th," said Jim Kneeland, Bennett's Seattle-based spokesman.

"Senator Prentice has made it clear to us that the Legislature has an agenda and a timeline that has to be followed. What we are going to try to do is get the ball rolling. We'll get the final pieces together while the bill comes through the process."

The Sonics' new owners are seeking a new home to replace the aging Key Arena. If Bennett doesn't get an agreement for a new arena in the Seattle area by Oct. 31, his $350 million purchase agreement allows him to move the team to Oklahoma, where he is a prominent businessman.

Prentice's bill will ask the Legislature to authorize King County to approve an arena project and to use hotel-motel taxes to help pay for it. Those taxes helped pay to build Qwest Field, the home of the NFL's Seahawks. The taxes, scheduled to end in 2020, are also being used for an arts initiative and to retire the debt on the now-demolished Kingdome.

The bill will also ask the Legislature to authorize the use of restaurant and rental-car taxes that helped build Safeco Field for baseball's Mariners. Those taxes are authorized through 2016 but will have paid off Safeco Field's debut by 2012. Bennett wants them to underwrite construction bonds for a new Sonics home in either Bellevue or Renton, two suburbs east of Seattle.

"It will be people from out of town who will be paying the majority of the taxes," Prentice said.

Even with those taxes, Prentice said, the project would still be about $100 million short of the $300 million in public money Bennett has estimated he will need.

Prentice's enthusiasm notwithstanding, leaders in both the House and Senate have said the arena project is a low priority for them. And meanwhile, both cities are still waiting for the Sonics to make their site choice.

"We're at the same place we were a week ago. And a week before that," said Matt Terry, Bellevue's director of planning and community development.

Kneeland said Monday that one of the final hurdles to the Bellevue site along Interstate 405 is the practicality of a "people mover" that would transport fans from parking lots on the west side of the freeway to the building on the east side.

Further muddling the Bellevue option: Terry said the four parcels of land the Sonics want have four different owners.

The 21 acres the Sonics are considering in Renton are owned by one entity: The Boeing Co. The team has been in negotiations with the company for months.

But at that site, the Sonics believe current traffic patterns to and from I-405 would need to be remodeled. Plus, costly parking structures may be needed, which could increase the cost by more than $150 million, Kneeland said.

Kneeland said Sonics representatives have meetings scheduled later this week with officials from both cities.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press