Business titans try to keep Sonics here
Costco CEO Jim Sinegal and Seattle developer Matt Griffin are among local business leaders pursuing what could be a last-ditch effort to...
Seattle Times staff reporters
Today's Oklahoma City voteWhat: 1-cent sales tax to raise $121 million
Why: To fund an upgrade at Ford Center arena, a new NBA practice facility — and lure the Sonics to town.
Costco CEO Jim Sinegal and Seattle developer Matt Griffin are among local business leaders pursuing what could be a last-ditch effort to keep the Sonics in Seattle by buying the team and funding a KeyArena expansion.
Griffin joined Seattle Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis on Monday to brief Gov. Christine Gregoire and legislative leaders on the proposal, which would split the cost of the KeyArena project 50-50 between taxpayers and private investors.
Despite the recent flurry of activity, those involved declined to reveal details of their proposal or the potential ownership group, and downplayed the likelihood of anything emerging before the Legislature's scheduled adjournment next week.
"There are a lot of us in the city who would be interested in doing what we could to keep this team," Sinegal said. "We think if the team leaves it will probably be gone for good."
Gregoire told reporters at a morning news conference, "There's a lot going on, to be honest with you," but offered no specifics.
"I worked on this issue over the weekend and I'll continue working on it early this week," she said. "There is nothing really to say. It's not as if I have something to say and I'm not saying it. There really isn't anything to say right now."
The latest maneuvering comes as residents of Oklahoma City prepare to vote today on a $121 million tax package meant to lure the Sonics with a renovated Ford Center arena and new practice facility. That vote is aimed at the NBA Board of Governors, which will meet next month to decide whether to approve the move.
Those upcoming events have created a sense of urgency among local Sonics boosters to show the NBA there is plenty of support for a team here. Marty Brown, Gregoire's chief lobbyist, said the Oklahoma vote and NBA meeting both came up at Monday's meeting in the governor's office.
It is not clear the effort will change anything. Clay Bennett, who leads the group of Oklahoma City businessmen that owns the Sonics, has said the team is not for sale. Since lawmakers last year rejected plans for a $500 million Renton arena, Bennett has turned his attention to relocating the Sonics to his hometown.
Bennett recently offered the city of Seattle $26.5 million to get out of the team's KeyArena lease before it expires in 2010. The city rejected the offer, and is pursuing a federal lawsuit to enforce the lease.
Ceis, Griffin and city of Seattle lobbyist David Foster made the rounds in the Capitol on Monday, meeting with Gregoire, House Speaker Frank Chopp and Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown.
Emerging from Chopp's office, neither Ceis nor Griffin would say much.
"I couldn't tell you what's going to happen," Ceis said, adding it will be up to Gregoire and legislative leaders to decide. "I'm not at liberty to discuss it."
Chopp, whose opposition helped derail previous Sonics arena plans, was even more blunt. "No comment," he said after meeting with the group.
Costco's Sinegal did not join the Capitol tour Monday but confirmed in an interview that he is involved in the effort.
He said a group of business leaders got together about a month ago because of the increasing likelihood of losing the Sonics to Oklahoma City.
Sinegal declined to say whether he'd personally invest money toward a team purchase or reveal others involved. "At this moment I don't know that I am free to speak about much," he said, adding "there is not a clear path" to a deal.
But Sinegal, a Costco co-founder and company president and CEO since 1993, said he regards the Sonics as part of "what keeps us a big-league city" along with cultural institutions such as the symphony and ballet.
Griffin is a major Seattle developer who helped build Pacific Place in the 1990s and recently engineered a deal that combined the Seattle Art Museum's downtown expansion with Washington Mutual's new headquarters.
Another potential Sonics ownership group surfaced in November when Seattle investment adviser Dennis Daugs said he had lined up unidentified investors with the wherewithal to purchase the team. But that group has not demonstrated any visible progress toward a deal and Daugs said Monday his group is not involved in the latest proposal.
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Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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