Initiative aimed at holding Sonics to KeyArena lease
A fan group filed an initiative Thursday that would prohibit Seattle officials from allowing Sonics owners to buy their way out of the team's...
Seattle Times staff reporter
A fan group filed an initiative Thursday that would prohibit Seattle officials from allowing Sonics owners to buy their way out of the team's KeyArena lease before it ends in 2010.
The initiative campaign, dubbing itself the A Deal Is A Deal committee, drew strange partners to a press conference at a Queen Anne comedy club.
Anti-arena activist Chris Van Dyk was on hand to endorse the measure, saying the Sonics should be held to the terms of the lease deal agreed to by the team as part of a major KeyArena renovation in 1995.
"They belong at KeyArena. They need to stay at KeyArena," said Van Dyk, who ran a successful initiative last year to restrict tax subsidies for the Sonics.
Brian Robinson, co-founder of Save Our Sonics and Storm, said he reached out to Van Dyk for advice on the initiative process and found "we had a lot of common ground" on the issue of the Sonics lease.
The new initiative, tentatively labeled Seattle Initiative 93, needs nearly 18,000 signatures from registered Seattle voters to qualify for the ballot and would not go to voters until next February.
Thursday's news conference, attended by a smattering of Sonics and Storm fans and a few local business owners, was held at the Mainstage Comedy Club, across the street from KeyArena.
Club owner Julie Mains said losing the basketball teams would have "a devastating impact" on her business and others across the city and state.
Save Our Sonics and Storm co-founder Steve Pyeatt said he hopes the initiative will serve to "lock the door" behind Sonics owner Clay Bennett and city officials, and force both sides to compromise.
So far, such a compromise doesn't seem likely. Bennett has called KeyArena obsolete and said he plans to explore an early buyout with the city. In an interview last week, Bennett said he does not believe KeyArena can work for the Sonics and Storm even with the $200 million expansion favored by previous team owners. He has said the teams will move to his hometown of Oklahoma City unless a new arena is built for them in Washington state.
It's unclear how much impact the initiative will have on KeyArena negotiations.
Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels has repeatedly said he intends to hold the Sonics to their lease through September 2010.
Nickels did waver slightly during a radio interview last week, suggesting he's not sure the city would ultimately prevail if the matter wound up in court. "We do not intend to make it easy for them to leave early or even in 2010 ... but we don't have complete control over that," he said in the interview on KJR-AM (950).
But initiative backers say Nickels does have the legal authority to reject any early buyout.
Seattle attorney Paul Schneiderman, who helped draft the measure, pointed to the lease's "specific performance clause" — language he says has helped other cities hold teams to the full terms of their leases.
The initiative will not have as much impact on the Seattle Storm. Its contains an opt-out clause allowing the team or city to end the agreement after any season, according to a Seattle Center spokesman.
Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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