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Originally published April 10, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified April 10, 2007 at 2:14 PM

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Sonics | Is the future in site?

There's always a "yeah but" that inevitably enters the conversation any time Sonics sales representatives try to sell tickets for next season...

Seattle Times staff reporter

RENTON — There's always a "yeah but" that inevitably enters the conversation any time Sonics sales representatives try to sell tickets for next season.

"The concern that I hear is, is the team going to stay in the area?" said Brian Byrnes, the team's vice president of sales and marketing. "And sooner or later somebody asks about the support we're receiving in Olympia and what about the land. Those are legitimate concerns."

The Sonics removed a large portion of that uncertainty Monday. The team's ownership group reached an agreement with Transwestern/Harvest Lakeshore LLC to acquire the rights to purchase 21.2 acres of land in Renton. The team is considering building a $500 million multipurpose events center on the site.

Harvest Partners, which makes up one half of the Transwestern/Harvest venture, is developing The Landing, a retail/residential complex adjacent to the 21.2 acres.

Boeing owns the 21.2 acres, but Harvest Partners currently has the first right of refusal to buy it. Under the Sonics-Transwestern/Harvest agreement, the team would acquire first right of refusal.

"We have been involved in extensive recent discussions and expect to have a signed definitive agreement soon," Eliot Barnett, Harvest Partners managing partner, said in a statement.

While one component of the arena situation appears to be settled, the Sonics still are not sure if state lawmakers will support a bill that would provide $200 million toward the new arena.

Before Monday's 95-90 loss to Houston, Sonics vice chairman Lenny Wilkens declined to speculate on rumors in Olympia that team owners plan to restructure the bill's financial package.

With less than two weeks remaining before the end of the Legislature's session on April 22, Sonics chairman Clay Bennett feels the team's recent campaign blitz has began to sway public opinion.

"I can't point to anything that would necessarily suggest that that's actually the case," he said last week in Oklahoma City. "Just my sense from being in the market. I sense [that] in talking to fans. I was able to go to three games in a row last week. There seems to be an awareness of the process and an awareness of what this facility is all about and response.

"So I think it's taken a long time. It's taken longer than I would have hoped. We've been at this hard since Day 1 and I think we're getting some traction."

In the past three weeks, the team launched a Web site, www.eventscenterfacts.com, had players and employees engage in a meet-and-greet session at the proposed arena site, and Bennett was the guest speaker of a televised town-hall meeting with season-ticket holders.

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The Sonics also opened a 1,000-square-foot information center in Renton's business district to provide information and sell tickets for the 2007-08 season.

"We'd like to encourage people who live and work in Renton to come by and meet our staff," Byrnes said. "We're not going to judge the success of the center on sales. We're going to judge the success by the amount of foot traffic we generate and by showing Renton business leaders that we're serious about being a business in Renton."

Even still, the team is pushing ticket packages for next season geared toward current season-tickets holders and Renton businesses. Despite the Sonics' 31-47 record and uncertain future, Byrnes said renewal sales are better than they were at this time last year.

"Whenever I hear that Clay is not serious about this, well, that's almost laughable," Byrnes said. "When you look at everything that he's done so far that shows serious commitment. ... Owning the rights to buy the land is just another example of that."

Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or pallen@seattletimes.com

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