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Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Oklahoma City mayor refutes report on Sonics, Bennett

Associated Press

Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett said Wednesday that reports in a Washington newspaper that seem to indicate city officials have spoken with members of the Seattle SuperSonics' ownership group about a possible move are "preposterous."

Cornett told The Associated Press the city's official position regarding its attempts to land an NBA franchise have not changed.

"We're not proactively pursuing any specific franchise right now and don't feel like it's appropriate to do so," Cornett said. "...We are poised and ready [and] if a franchise becomes available, we will pursue it vigorously."

It's not appropriate to have the level of discussion that that article said [Clay Bennett] had [with Oklahoma City]. I found it preposterous.

-- OKC Mayor Mick Cornett

The Tacoma News Tribune, citing an anonymous employee of the Sonics, reported Saturday that Clay Bennett, an Oklahoma City businessman and the leader of the team's ownership group, told team employees during a meeting last week that Oklahoma City would pay the team's expenses should it relocate to the Sooner State.

The newspaper reported that during the meeting, Bennett offered details of what Oklahoma City would do if the team tried to relocate, including paying legal fees involving the team's possible attempt to break its lease at Seattle's KeyArena, any settlement to buy out the lease, all relocation fees assessed by the NBA, the cost of the physical move of team staff and offices and the cost of upgrading the Ford Center in Oklahoma City and building a new arena.

Bennett told the Tacoma newspaper last week that his comments were only hypothetical.

"The context of my response was after being asked the question 'How could Oklahoma City possibly be a competitive market to Seattle?' And my answer is because Oklahoma City is a medium marketplace that highly values the opportunity to obtain an NBA franchise, not unlike any community or any state would value the pursuit of any other highly additive economic development opportunity, such as the value of a manufacturing plant or corporate headquarters," Bennett said.

"The response was an attempt to provide some clarity as [to] why it is so important that Seattle respond and recognize at once that the team is at risk. Without a successor venue at KeyArena, and without a modern facility, the team cannot remain economically viable in the marketplace."

Dan Mahoney, a spokesman for Bennett, said Wednesday that Bennett would have no further comment on the issue.

Cornett said the story "just seemed to indicate that we had discussed a relocation of the Sonics to Oklahoma City, and we have not." He said that Oklahoma City officials "are certainly aware of what's going on in Seattle, but it's not appropriate to have the level of discussion that that article said [Bennett] had [with Oklahoma City]. I found it preposterous."

Cornett acknowledged that he speaks frequently with Bennett "about what's going on in the city ... but we also know what's appropriate and what's not. Clay is going to do what he said he was going to do. I knew that from the moment he said he would try to get a deal in Seattle."

The Sonics' ownership group has set a deadline of Oct. 31 to secure an agreement for a new arena in the Seattle area. If a deal is not in place by then, Bennett has said will begin the league's process of relocation the Sonics to Oklahoma City, which served as the temporary home the past two seasons for the New Orleans Hornets, who had been displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

The Sonics' lease at KeyArena runs through 2010. Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and Bennett have spent much of the past month arguing about the team's future.

Bennett accused Nickels of focusing on "unworkable concepts" after a proposal by Nickels to remodel KeyArena or build another area at the same site, and Nickels responded that "if Mr. Bennett wants to limit the conversation to an early buy-out of the team's lease at KeyArena, then ... a trip to Seattle isn't worth the price of the plane ticket."

Cornett said the Ford Center, in which the Hornets played the past two seasons, "is more than adequate for an NBA team," but that city officials are "in the beginning stages of what might be next," and that long-term plans could include "a replacement for the Ford Center."