Bill seeks authorization to use taxes for new arena

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

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.