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Originally published Friday, February 9, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Guest columnist

Sonics' proposal is about much more than a b-ball court

Many have spoken out against the $300 million of public financing for a new home for the Seattle SuperSonics, saying it is too much to spend...

Special to The Times

Many have spoken out against the $300 million of public financing for a new home for the Seattle SuperSonics, saying it is too much to spend. However, the proposal is for much more than just a basketball court.

The proposal is for a true multipurpose complex that will offer a prime venue for concerts, large conventions, large corporate meetings, NCAA regionals, an NHL hockey team, arena football and, of course, the Sonics and Storm — the only two teams that have brought world championships to Seattle.

That is why there is so much interest in what impact the project can have on local economic-development efforts.

It's true I am a basketball fan, but more appealing to me is the economic activity the new center will bring to the region and to whichever city is chosen for it. This will be a valuable community asset that will create jobs and promote the development of new hotels and great restaurants. Examples of projects benefiting our area's economy are the Washington State Convention and Trade Center, Benaroya Hall, and Qwest and Safeco fields.

In addition to all the sporting events the Sonics arena could accommodate, it could also host a Democratic or Republican national convention. The Pepsi Center in Denver, site of the 2008 Democratic gathering, is very similar to the type of building that is being proposed here. Today, there is no building in our region that can handle such an event, and that includes KeyArena.

Virtually every leading city in the country already has a multipurpose complex or is in the process of building one. Such an arena will help serve the large-meeting needs of major corporations whose headquarters or operations are located in our area, including Costco, Boeing, Amazon, Microsoft and others. Those meeting dollars will be captured here, rather than going to Las Vegas, Orlando or Los Angeles.

The proposed building is expensive, but it is a worthy investment, particularly when you consider that the public's share of the cost will require no new taxes and most of the cost will be paid by out-of-area visitors, not local taxpayers.

One funding idea is to redirect the existing restaurant tax in King County alone — once the bonds for Safeco Field are paid off ahead of schedule. This King County-only tax will have a very modest impact on local people when they go out to eat, representing 50 cents on a $100 dinner bill. Other tax sources, like the hotel/motel tax and the rental-car tax, are levied primarily on out-of-area travelers visiting King County.

I am convinced that none of the funding proposals will place a burden on King County taxpayers. And, if you live in Pierce, Snohomish or other surrounding counties, you will reap the economic benefit of a nearby world-class venue, at no cost.

The 700,000-plus-square-foot building may be near $500 million when all costs are taken into account, but the price of not acting would be far greater. We would likely lose the Sonics and Storm. There would be no major-league hockey and no world-class venue for concerts and conventions. Jobs would be lost. Then, in five or 10 years, when it would become clear we do need such a building, the cost would be far greater and we wouldn't have anchor tenants like the Sonics and Storm.

To sum up, these are the main reasons to support a new arena:

• The Sonics and Storm have many fans, and there simply is no good reason for those fans to lose their teams;

• The funding proposals will have almost no impact on King County taxpayers, and no new general taxes are even being considered to pay for the arena;

• The arena plan will lead to new opportunities on the sports and business scenes that can create jobs and help promote this region worldwide;

• The benefits will be shared by all of the surrounding cities;

• The longer we wait to act, the greater the total cost will be.

Given this information and perspective, I know people in our region will realize the opportunity this represents and support a new, world-class arena.

Sen. Margarita Prentice, D-Renton, is chairwoman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee and sponsor of an arena financing bill.

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