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Originally published Wednesday, January 9, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Four Storm fans take over

Storm fans will make their annual trek to KeyArena today to select their seats for season tickets. And this time fans know that those seats...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Storm fans will make their annual trek to KeyArena today to select their seats for season tickets. And this time fans know that those seats won't be taken away.

Thanks to four of their own.

A group of four season-ticket holders secured an exclusive option to purchase the Storm for $10 million from Clay Bennett. The announcement was made with WNBA president Donna Orender at the team's practice facility on Tuesday.

Anne Levinson, former Seattle deputy mayor, spearheaded the group that includes Lisa Brummel, Microsoft senior vice president for human resources; Ginny Gilder, who owns an investment business; and Dawn Trudeau, a former Microsoft employee who now works for nonprofit groups.

"Wow! I never thought that this would be a possibility," Trudeau said. "It's not just keeping the team in town, it's the fact that we're doing it with women leadership.

"We have a long-standing relationship and we already trust each other and that helps a lot in being able to pursue something like this. We're taking a risk here, there's no question about it. We feel confident that we can step up to that and be very successful."

The deal, which has to be approved by the 30 NBA owners at the WNBA Board of Governors meeting, has until the end of February to close. Part of the process is the new group gathering public, business, and government support to show the Storm can be successful as a stand-alone franchise not sharing operational costs with the Sonics in Seattle.

Orender said she has no doubt that deal will be approved.

Karen Bryant, Storm chief operating officer, met Brummel, Levinson, and Trudeau through work with the defunct Seattle Reign. Bryant will keep her job under new ownership, but she is 19 weeks pregnant, so her maternity leave will include part of the 2008 season.

Bennett and his Oklahoma-based group purchased the Sonics and Storm for $350 million in July 2006. He wanted a new arena for the NBA team, and when he was unable to generate political support, he filed to relocate the Sonics to Oklahoma City.

The Sonics' KeyArena lease doesn't expire until after the 2009-10 season.

Bennett began talking to Levinson about a possible sale last summer once efforts for a new arena failed in the state Legislature. In September, Bennett announced the Storm would play the 2008 season at KeyArena.

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The purchase was finalized over the holidays.

"We knew the right thing to do for Seattle was to work with Anne's group to see if we could make this happen," said Bennett in a statement. "We will assist them in any way we can to ensure a smooth transition and wish them the very best."

Bennett is expected to announce today that Brian Agler will be the Storm coach; former coach Anne Donovan resigned in November.

Bennett involved the new ownership group, Force 10 Hoops LLC, in hiring the new coach. The Storm front office won't officially split from the Sonics' until 2009.

Levinson said the Storm will play at KeyArena indefinitely, but the owners seek an improved lease and want the franchise to become profitable.

The WNBA team broke even after winning the championship during the 2004 fiscal year but hasn't done so since. The Storm averaged more than 8,000 fans three times in their eight-year history and 7,974 last summer.

Force 10 Hoops is the third predominantly female ownership group in the 14-team league and makes the Storm the seventh independent franchise.

"I'm really happy for the fans, they deserve it for their show of support," said Storm guard Betty Lennox by telephone from Kansas City. "It's good that there will be basketball in Seattle forever."

In a release that echoed the sentiments of several other prominent politicians, Gov. Christine Gregoire called the sale "a terrific result."

"This group of accomplished women has made this possible because of their strong commitment to the community," Gregoire said. "They also know first-hand that being able to compete in the top echelon of sports provides women with opportunities generations who came before us never had."

Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or jevans@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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