Home in the suburbs for Sonics and Storm?
Sonics owner Clay Bennett pushed ahead Wednesday with plans for a new suburban arena, announcing the hiring of a major sports architectural...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Sonics owner Clay Bennett pushed ahead Wednesday with plans for a new suburban arena, announcing the hiring of a major sports architectural firm to design a building that could accommodate professional hockey, as well as basketball.
But Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels has his own ideas about Bennett's plans, saying he'll demand Seattle gets a cut of tax dollars for KeyArena if the Legislature decides to help pay for construction of a competing arena in the suburbs.
"As the region and state talk about potential alternatives, we will be at that table, and we will be making the case that we would expect to have some compensation made for KeyArena so it would remain a viable, financially solvent piece of the Seattle Center campus," Nickels said.
KeyArena was constructed in 1995 as part of a 15-year lease deal with the Sonics. Money the city earns from Sonics games has paid off most of the debt from that construction. But when the Sonics lease expires in 2010, the city still will owe an estimated $30 million. The Legislature should at least relieve the city of that debt if it agrees to pay for a new Sonics arena outside the city, the mayor said.
At a news conference, Bennett made it perfectly clear the Sonics' future arena plans do not include Seattle. He said the owners were looking at two or three sites in the suburbs but offered few details. He said the team will announce its proposed arena site and financing plan by the end of the year.
Bennett had little to say about Nickels' demands. Calling KeyArena "deficient in every way," Bennett said he is focused on developing a "world-class" arena that would be a boon to the region.
"This is less about the Sonics and Storm and more about the development of a community asset," Bennett said. He said he wants a new venue of the type that "doesn't exist here today" — one that could also accommodate an NHL team, Final Four college-basketball-tournament games and even national political conventions.
Bellevue developer Bob Wallace, who has long been skeptical of a suburban arena, said he was impressed with Bennett's efforts so far, adding that Seattle politicians had "opted to kick sand on the Sonics."
While many locals have been skeptical about the intentions of Bennett's Oklahoma City-based ownership group, he repeated Wednesday he has every intention of keeping the Sonics and Storm in the area.
To prove he is serious, Bennett announced the hiring of HOK Sport, an architectural firm that has designed such sports venues as Denver's Pepsi Center, Houston's Toyota Center and Philips Arena in Atlanta.
Two weeks ago, Bennett announced he had hired Denver-based ICON Venue Group to lead the planning of the new arena.
Bennett said the development team will work swiftly to come up with a feasible arena in time for the start of January's legislative session. Until that planning is completed, Bennett said, he would not put a price tag on the project or give any details on how much public money the team might seek.
Bellevue developer Kemper Freeman, who has been working with Bennett, said that at least one of Bennett's arena sites is in Bellevue. He would not name the site but earlier this month said the most likely spot for an arena is the Bel-Red Corridor, a 900-acre stretch of warehouses and office parks.
Staff reporters Ashley Bach and Bob Young contributed to this report. Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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