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Bennett lobbying for new Seattle arena, but relocation would target Oklahoma

SEATTLE -- On the day Clay Bennett called for a resumption
of talks regarding a new arena in the Seattle area, the SuperSonics
owner finally declared where he'll move the franchise if a deal
can't be reached.

To no one's surprise, it'll be Bennett's hometown of Oklahoma
City.

Bennett spokesman Dan Mahoney confirmed Thursday that if Bennett
files relocation papers with the NBA, Oklahoma City will be the
destination. It's the first time Bennett has made a solid
declaration about the Sonics' future location if a new arena deal
doesn't develop in Seattle.

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

Previously, Bennett visited Kansas City to speak with officials
there about their new arena that is without an anchor tenant.
Oklahoma City just finished a successful two-year run hosting the
New Orleans Hornets, who are returning to Louisiana for the 2007-08
season.

Bennett has set an Oct. 31 deadline -- one year from the date his
purchase of the franchise closed -- for finding an arena solution.
If no progress is made, Bennett has promised to begin relocating
the team.

Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett stressed that Oklahoma City is
"not proactively seeking any franchise" and is aware that NBA
teams have leases with their current cities that they are expected
to honor. But Cornett said at some point an NBA team will announce
that it is actively looking to relocate, and he will pursue that
team.

Bennett, who owns the Sonics and WNBA Storm, maintains his
optimal situation is in Seattle. His pronouncement on where the
team might move came as he re-emerged to push the arena issue --
one-year after his purchase of the franchise.

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.

"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," said Bennett, who was in
Seattle on Thursday morning before he flew back to Oklahoma City in
the afternoon.

Bennett spoke with Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels before he left, 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."

Getting a new arena in Seattle will be difficult after voters
passed an initiative last fall requiring that teams pay
"fair-market value" for new facilities in the city -- instead of
leaving the overwhelming majority of the costs for taxpayers.
Bennett is hoping Nickels can bring together other civic and
private leaders.

"[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," said Nickels' spokesman Marty McOmber.

The Legislature took no action on a proposal to use King County
tax revenues to cover $278 million of a proposed $500 million arena
in the suburb of Renton. The Sonics have a lease with the city of
Seattle to play at KeyArena -- the smallest venue in the NBA --
through the 2010 season. Last year, NBA commissioner David Stern
called that lease the league's worst.

Three months ago, Bennett appeared ready to write the city a
check to break the lease after next season, saying the Sonics would
likely honor the agreement only through "a legal exercise."

McOmber said the city's stance has not changed.

"The lease is thru 2010 and we expect them to honor that lease.
And that's where it remains," he said, adding all previous
proposals for renovations to KeyArena are still on the table.

With a public partnership appearing less likely, Bennett appears
to be leaning toward the private sector if a deal is to get done in
Seattle.

One option could be the Muckleshoot Indian tribe, which owns
land near Emerald Downs race track in Auburn, 24 miles south of
downtown Seattle. The tribe has examined possibilities for the land
and a consultant's report is due back soon, spokesman Rollin
Fatland said Thursday.

Bennett also had an introductory meeting with David Sabey, a
Seattle-area real estate developer, to discuss land Sabey bought a
few months ago in Tukwila, south of Seattle.

There have been no subsequent discussions with either the tribe
or Sabey's group.

"We're open to any idea that helps us get into a new
building," Bennett said.