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Thursday, February 23, 2006 - Page updated at 02:31 PM

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NBA commissioner pushes for KeyArena changes

The Associated Press

OLYMPIA — NBA Commissioner David Stern today asked Washington state lawmakers for tax money to renovate the Seattle SuperSonics' arena, saying there could be consequences if the state doesn't act.

"A substantial amount has been done for the baseball and football teams. I'm here personally to find out whether the same is being considered fairly for the NBA," Stern said at a legislative hearing, flanked by lead team owner Howard Schultz and team president Wally Walker.

"If not, that's a decision we can accept. But then we'll have to act on it ourselves," Stern said.

The Sonics say they have lost about $60 million in the past five years on KeyArena, and blame a revenue-sharing lease with the city of Seattle.

Schultz, the chairman of Starbucks Corp., has threatened to move or sell the team if state lawmakers don't approve a sales-tax package to pay for a new or renovated arena.

Executives with the Sonics and the WNBA's Storm estimate the price tag at more than $200 million. The teams' lease with the city is scheduled to expire in 2010, and team executives say time could run out if action isn't taken soon.

Sonics officials have identified two options for staying: a full renovation of KeyArena, or a brand-new venue elsewhere — possibly to the east, in the suburb of Bellevue.

Gov. Chris Gregoire, King County Executive Ron Sims and Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels have backed the proposal.

Most of the money for a KeyArena upgrade or replacement would come from current King County taxes imposed on hotels, rental cars and restaurants.

Taxpayers covered the costs of a $74 million arena makeover in 1994, but Sonics officials say that the luxury boxes — the primary source of revenue for most sports facilities — are sub-par. At 368,000 square feet, KeyArena is about half the size of an average NBA venue.

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There has been resistance to the plan in the Legislature and in Seattle, where taxpayers already have helped build new stadiums for baseball's Mariners and the NFL's Seahawks.

Chris Van Dyk, chairman of a group called Citizens for More Important Things, said the Sonics' financial woes owe more to their multimillion-dollar payroll than any problem with the KeyArena lease.

He called the existing arena "a powerful symbol of waste and lack of accountable government."

"This game plan has played itself out in virtually every city that has built a professional sports stadium in the past 15 years," Van Dyk said before the hearing.

The measure doesn't specifically allocate money for KeyArena, but allows local officials to spend tax dollars on arts, sports, and other civic amenities. It does set aside $4.5 million over seven years to pay for museums and the arts.

The KeyArena bill is SB6849. Its companion in the House is HB3233.

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