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Bennett seeks new arena talks

Tim Booth Associated Press

SEATTLE – SuperSonics owner Clay Bennett called for a resumption of talks with political, business and civic leaders in the Seattle area to try to re-ignite discussions on a new arena.

Bennett spokesman Dan Mahoney confirmed Thursday that if Bennett decides to file relocation papers with the NBA, Oklahoma City will be the destination. Bennett had also visited Kansas City to speak with officials there about their new arena that is without an anchor tenant.

“Kansas City was being looked at, but the preference is that if relocation is attempted, Oklahoma City would be the market,” Mahoney said.

It’s the first time he has made a solid declaration of where he would take the team if a new arena deal doesn’t work out in Seattle. Oklahoma City just finished a successful two-year run hosting the New Orleans Hornets, who are returning to Louisiana for the 2007-08 season.

But the owner of the Sonics and the WNBA’s Storm continues to maintain that his optimal situation is in Seattle.

Bennett has been mostly silent on the issue since the Washington legislature adjourned in April without taking action on a proposal that would have contributed about $300 million in public money for a new arena in the Seattle suburbs.

Wednesday was the one-year anniversary of Bennett’s purchase of the Sonics from Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz.

“The clock is ticking and we wanted to again bring a call to action and raise the issue and bring people to the table and get serious about what needs to get done,” Bennett said.

Bennett, who returned to Oklahoma City on Thursday afternoon, spoke with Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels in the morning to arrange an in-person meeting. In a statement released earlier in the day, Bennett said Nickels is “the appropriate person to provide leadership and guidance on this issue.”

Seattle voters passed an initiative last fall which requires that teams pay “fair-market value” for new facilities in the city – instead of leaving the overwhelming majority of the costs for taxpayers. Yet, Bennett is apparently hoping Nickels may be able to bring other civic and private leaders together to work on a new arena deal.

“(He) was extremely receptive and considerate in the phone conversation,” Bennett said. “It’s not so much to provide public money, but he is someone who can provide leadership and bring people to the table in his capacity as mayor … and help address the issue.”

The city wants to hear what Bennett has to say in person.

“We’ll take the discussion from that point and see where the initial meeting goes,” Nickels spokesman Marty McOmber said.

Bennett has set an Oct. 31 deadline for finding an arena solution. If no progress is made, Bennett has promised to begin relocating the team.

Before it adjourned, the legislature rejected a plan to use King County tax revenues to cover $278 million of a proposed $500 million arena in Renton.

Short of Bennett asking Gov. Chris Gregoire to call back lawmakers for a special session to reconsider the issue, there is no way the Sonics can get public money approved for a building before Bennett’s deadline.

The Sonics have a lease to play at KeyArena through the 2010 season.

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