Boom Town Investors Hope to Save Sonics

Steve GMarch 11th, 2008
By: Steve G

Along with Seattle developer Matt Griffin and Costco CEO Jim Sinegal, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and wireless magnate John Stanton have been named as key players in the movement to keep the team in Seattle.

Ballmer and Stanton wanted to remain anonymous, but persistent efforts from the Seattle Post Intelligencer and Seattle Times revealed them to be major players.

Local Seattle politicians are championing the efforts as a huge turning point for the Sonics dire situation with the NBA. With an ownership group that has such strong ties to businesses such as Costco and Microsoft, many believe that they have the leverage to convince the Legislature to review the new plan in a special session.

Unlike the proposed plan that Sonics' ownership group has offered, this new plan proposes for the group to offer up half of the $300 million in Key Arena renovations. The city of Seattle would provide $75 million by temporarily extending car-rental and restaurant taxes used to pay off Safeco Field. Another $75 million would be generated through an admissions tax at key Arena.

Critics that were strong opponents of professional sports teams and public funded arenas have taken a liking to the proposal. Anti-stadium activists such as Chris Van Dyk, author of Initiative 91, and City Councilman Nick Licata believe this is a good deal and can work within the stipulations of I-91.

Lobbyists are pushing for a special exception for this bill as the Legislative session is set to end by next week. Former owner of Sonics Howard Schultz, as well as current majority owner Clayton Bennett have put forth several attempts to put together something similar, but politicians felt that they showed up to late to be discussed and were rejected.

Public funding of a professional sports arena seemed like an impossibility because of Initiative 91 that recently passed last year. Initiative 91 requires that any goods or services Seattle provides for professional sports teams must be paid back with a profit on par with a 30 year U.S. Treasury Bond at about 4.5%.

Bennett's original plan asked for the city to put up $300 million in renovations but with Initiative 91 passing he would have had to pay back $313 million for the construction.

With a plan in place, Seattle hopes to convince the NBA Board of Governors to reject the relocation request by Clayton Bennett. The group is scheduled to meet in April to decide the fate of the Sonics.

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