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Tribe says Sonics arena would work in Auburn; will give land

By Tim Booth
Seattle, Washington (AP) 9-07

The Muckleshoot tribe is making a move to help keep the Seattle SuperSonics and Seattle Storm in the Puget Sound region.

A feasibility study paid for by the tribe and released on Monday showed promise for a possible multipurpose arena built on land owned by the tribe in Auburn, about 25 miles southeast of downtown Seattle.

The study, by consultants Brailsford & Dunlavey, said the proposed site – next to the Emerald Downs racetrack – could accommodate an 18,500-seat arena along with parking. It would cost about $450 million.

And, as an added carrot, the tribe has offered to donate the 26.5-acre site to whoever wants to develop the project.

“The tribe wants to do this as a contribution to the region. That is it,” tribal spokesman Rollin Fatland said. “It’s an altruistic move on the part of the tribe.”

The study and offer from the Muckleshoots is the first bit of major news in almost two months on the NBA franchise’s search for a new place to play.

In late July, Oklahoma City-based team owner Clay Bennett called for a resumption of talks with local officials. But the pronouncement turned into a bickering match after Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels raised the prospect of the teams continuing to play in Key Arena.

Bennett’s ownership group bought the Sonics a year ago, saying the arena at Seattle Center could no longer serve as the home for the Sonics and the WNBA Storm.

In August, Nickels said if Bennett was only interested in discussing a buyout of the team’s lease at Key Arena, which runs through the 2010 season, then “a trip to Seattle isn’t worth the price of the plane ticket.”

Last week, the Seattle City Council voted 9-0 in favor of an ordinance binding the Sonics to their KeyArena lease through 2010. It was aimed at keeping Nickels from negotiating a buyout.

The tribe has given the feasibility study to Bennett and to Gov. Chris Gregoire. Spokesmen for both declined comment on the study Monday.

The Muckleshoots’ land is five acres larger than the proposed site Bennett was seeking in Renton for a potential arena that would have cost more than $500 million, including the acquisition of the land.

That plan failed when the Washington Legislature declined a proposal that called for about $300 million in public money for the arena.

Figuring out the financing is the next step for the Muckleshoots. The tribe is willing to bankroll a study on different financial options, but would like to have a plan developed before the Legislature reconvenes in January.

“Now what has to happen is the economic study and the financing study, and that’s where the tribe feels appropriate to widen the circle here,” Fatland said. “The tribe has put a site on the table here and saying we’re going to give it to whatever entity is established to build and operate this facility.”

The start of the Legislature could be too late for Bennett, who has set an Oct. 31 deadline for having a plan in place or filing relocation papers with the NBA for moving the teams to Oklahoma City.

Bennett has softened that stance recently, saying he may delay any relocation filing in hopes of not distracting from the start of the Sonics’ season. Seattle’s first game is Oct. 31 at Denver, and its home opener is the next night against Phoenix.

“We know the ownership is anxious to get a resolution here,” Fatland said. “It would serve well to move expeditiously to get it done.”

 

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