Sonics want question of future in Seattle resolved soon

SEATTLE -- The future of the SuperSonics in the city of Seattle could be decided within the month, the team said Tuesday.

In a letter to Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and the city council, team president Wally Walker said The Basketball Club of Seattle LLC would like to "come to closure on whether we will remain at KeyArena after 2010."

"Doing so this month in the context of the Council's ongoing process seems appropriate and reasonable," Walker wrote.

The organization also stated for the first time how much it intended to contribute to a proposed $220 million renovation of the arena, saying it would pay for at least $18.3 million of the project and cover any cost overruns.

In February, majority owner Howard Schultz threatened to possibly move or sell the city's oldest major league professional sports franchise, saying the team has lost about $60 million in the past five years, blaming a revenue-sharing lease with the city of Seattle that lasts until 2010.

Unlike nearly all of their NBA rivals, the Sonics don't keep the revenue from luxury suites, parking and concessions at home games. NBA commissioner David Stern called the Sonics' lease the worst in the league and last week said that inaction on the issue has shown that the city is "not interested in having the NBA there."

Walker wrote that the outlined proposal is not to be viewed as an opening offer leading to negotiations.

"If it is not a realistic possibility that our requirements can be met, we both need to move on," he wrote.

Walker was traveling Tuesday and not available for further comment. Calls to the office of the mayor and City Council were not immediately returned.

Along with the arena renovations, Walker also outlined what the organization considers an industry-standard lease. If improvements are made, the Sonics would enter into a new 20-year lease with the city; would manage and operate the arena and pay rent to the city at no less than $1 million per year; and would take on all operating risk of the arena, including payment of all operating costs and routine maintenance. In return, the organization would keep all revenues derived from operations.

For the last two years, the Sonics have gone to the state legislature looking for financial assistance and were rebuffed. Gov. Chris Gregoire has suggested an independent third-party negotiator be used between the city and team, a move the Sonics say they support.

In a letter sent to the governor Monday, Nickels and the council reiterated the city's stance that any public contribution for renovations must be put to a vote and that the public share come from visitor taxes collected countywide, not just in Seattle. Similar taxes helped in the construction of Qwest Field and Safeco Field.

Following an April 5 meeting of the team's ownership group, Walker announced the organization would retain advisers to examine different options, including possibly building an arena in the Seattle region -- most likely in the eastern suburb of Bellevue -- or potentially selling the team.

The Basketball Club of Seattle bought the Sonics and the WNBA's Seattle Storm in 2001 for $200 million. The current owners say they have no interest in owning a franchise that doesn't play in the area.

Potential suitors from outside the region include Oklahoma City; San Jose, Calif.; and Kansas City, Mo. In February, Schultz said an unidentified city offered the team a "blank check" to move the Sonics.

The Sonics will finish their 39th season in Seattle on Wednesday night.

"We have been proud to call Seattle Center home court for four decades. Were the city to proceed with a project and be willing to enter into a lease that meet our requirements, we would join with the city in extending that legacy to our mutual benefit," Walker wrote.