Lawmakers Won't Vote on Sonics Arena This Session

Lawmakers Won't Vote on Sonics Arena This Session
April 17th, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: Lawmakers Won't Vote on Sonics Arena This Session

Lawmakers Won't Vote on Sonics Arena This Session
OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) -Seattle SuperSonics majority owner Clay Bennett said a decision by the Washington state Legislature not to vote on a measure to finance a new arena has all but doomed efforts to keep the team in the state beyond next season.
"Clearly at this time the Sonics and (WNBA) Storm have little hope of remaining in the Puget Sound region," the Oklahoma City-based Bennett said in statement issued soon after the Monday night decision.
Seattle has been the NBA Sonics' only home for 40 seasons.
At a meeting involving Gov. Chris Gregoire and House and Senate leaders, lawmakers decided there wasn't enough time to resolve the issue before the session adjourns on April 22. But they said the issue was not dead.
"We know we're not going to take a vote this session because we're really running out of time," said Sen. Margarita Prentice, D-Renton, and the arena's strongest champion. "There's a number of issues we feel we should resolve."
The $500 million arena plan ran out of time largely because of two factors. First, Bennett did not take control of the team until Nov. 1, 2006, when the NBA finally approved his $350 million summer purchase from Starbucks Corp. Chairman Howard Schultz. Then complications in determining the most viable arena site delayed the plan from reaching the Legislature until Feb. 13 - five weeks after Bennett's target date.
Sonics spokesman Jim Kneeland said the team has committed to work with the Legislature until Nov. 1 on plans for an arena, but "this is a very serious blow to try to keep the team here."
The team is looking to replace KeyArena in Seattle, where the Sonics hold what NBA commissioner David Stern called the league's worst lease. The purchase agreement that Bennett and his Oklahoma-based co-owners have stipulates that if Bennett doesn't have a new arena deal in place by Oct. 31, he is contractually free to move the teams. But the Sonics did not file a franchise relocation request with the NBA by the March 1 deadline, meaning they are obligated for at least one more season in Seattle.
Gregoire could call a special session to bring lawmakers back to Olympia after April 22. That appears to be the only way the Sonics could get legislative approval to send their arena plan to King County by Nov. 1. But Monday, lawmakers and a spokeswoman for Gregoire's office said there's been no discussion of a possible special session.
The next legislative session does not convene until January 2008.
"By its inaction, the Legislature has delivered the message that they are indifferent to the notion of the Sonics and the Storm leaving the market," Bennett said.
Lawmakers sounded more optimistic, promising to look at a large-scale arena plan they say could be an asset to the entire state - not just the Sonics.
Last Friday, Prentice's committee, the Senate Ways and Means Committee, approved a $278 million package of local taxes to help build the new events center in Prentice's hometown of Renton, south of Seattle. Bennett has said the proposed facility would hold at least 18,500 fans and could accommodate national political conventions and other sports such as hockey.
But the plan has run into stiff opposition in the state House, where discussions among House Democrats have been lukewarm, and where the powerful speaker, Rep. Frank Chopp of Seattle, had all but pronounced the plan dead.
House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam, said a straw poll taken throughout Monday showed "there wasn't significant support for the proposal right now, but perhaps if the discussion turns to a statewide multipurpose event center that might change the dynamics.
"We don't know because that's not what we were presented with," she said. Bennett has asked the Legislature for $300 million in public money for the facility, which could cost in excess of $500 million. The city of Renton has been asked to contribute money as well, but that amount hasn't been determined yet. Neither has the Sonics' contribution to the arena's cost.

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