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Voters support restriction on arena financing
Seattle Times staff reporter
Seattle voters stood up and cheered a ballot measure that would restrict public financing for a new or improved arena for the Sonics and Storm — rousing Clayton Bennett to declare that Seattle has gone to the back of the line as a potential long-term home for the professional basketball teams.
"The passage of Initiative 91 makes it much more difficult to build a multipurpose arena to serve as the new home for the Sonics within the city of Seattle," said Bennett, who heads the Oklahoma-based ownership group for the teams.
"While Seattle will now be relegated to a second-tier status, we will continue to seek other sites within King County," Bennett said. "Other cities in King County have expressed great interest in becoming the new home of the Sonics.
Bennett said the team will honor its lease at KeyArena, which expires in 2010, "and then hopes to relocate to a new facility outside of Seattle but within King County."
Chris Van Dyk, the Bainbridge Island-based organizer of Citizens for More Important Things, said although the measure was limited to Seattle, its impact will be felt regionally and statewide. Rather than re-focusing elsewhere in King County, Van Dyk thinks the new owners should work to build a new arena without tax subsidies.
Voters were approving the initiative by a 3-to-1 margin. It requires the city to receive a "fair value" cash profit — no less than the rate of return on a 30-year U.S. Treasury Bond, which is about 5 percent currently — in return for services or real estate it provides professional sports franchises.
But I-91 would not necessarily stop a new arena deal for the Sonics and Storm from being made. I-91 does not restrict spending county or state taxes on an arena in Seattle — the tax model used to build Safeco and Qwest fields. And it has no legal effect on what suburban locations might offer the new team owners.
"If Mr. Bennett thinks for one moment that a vote like this in the city of Seattle will encourage state legislators to fund tax subsidies for a professional sports team anywhere in Washington state, he is dead wrong," Van Dyk said. "Nothing will go forward with tax subsidies of any significant amount in the state of Washington."
Van Dyk said his group would mount a statewide initiative to repeal any subsidized professional sports arena in Washington, if necessary.
Ralph Morton, executive director of the Seattle Sports Commission, predicted that political leaders who understand the economic benefits of a professional sports franchise would not be deterred.
Stuart Eskenazi: 206-464-2293 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company