SEATTLE -- The private investors who are offering to participate in a $300 million KeyArena upgrade in hopes of saving professional basketball in the Seattle area have given the state Legislature a final plea and a firm deadline.
But lawmakers quickly indicated Monday that there's no way they can consider the offer before the legislative session ends Thursday, and suggested that Seattle cover the millions currently hoped for from the state.
In a letter to Gov. Chris Gregoire and key legislators, the four prominent Seattle businessmen said the Legislature has until April 10 to approve the $75 million in tax authority being requested from the state, or they are walking away from their offer of $150 million toward the renovations.
"At some point, the people of Olympia have to lead," Seattle developer Matt Griffin, one of the four, said Monday. "They should realize we just don't plan to sit around. We have lives to lead, jobs to do."
The letter, dated March 9 and signed by Microsoft Corp. Chief Executive Steve Ballmer, Costco Wholesale Corp. President and CEO Jim Sinegal, wireless entrepreneur John Stanton and Griffin, said: "We stand ready to help keep the Sonics here in Washington state and rebuild a critical regional facility, but we need your help urgently."
The four have been working with Seattle officials on a plan for renovating the Sonics' home court at KeyArena, which NBA officials say is severely deficient.
The local group has agreed to pay $150 million in renovation costs, contingent on purchasing an NBA team. Another $75 million would come from the city of Seattle, and the final $75 million from restaurant and rental car taxes currently paying off bonds on Safeco Field. The businessmen hope to secure state approval to shift that tax revenue to KeyArena work once the bonds are paid off early.
Sonics owner Clay Bennett, an Oklahoma City businessman, wants to move the team to his hometown and is taking his case to the NBA's ownership meeting next month.
Even if the league authorizes Bennett to make the move, he remains in court with the city of Seattle over the Sonics' duty to fulfill their KeyArena lease, which doesn't expire until 2010. That case is due to be heard in June.
The Seattle-area prospective owners say they need to know where their offer stands by April 10 so they can present an alternate case to the NBA's Board of Governors. If there's no counterproposal involving local owners and arena upgrades, Bennett's petition to move the team is "almost certain to be granted," the letter said.
"I've always said the best time to negotiate with the NBA is before their Board of Governors meet in mid-April," Griffin said. "You need to back up from that and realize what kind of dates that means."
But legislators said it's far too late in the 2008 session to properly work through the proposal.
Also, the Sonics are not for sale. Bennett has repeatedly said he's not interested in unloading the team, and Oklahoma City voters recently voted overwhelmingly to approve public financing for improvements to the Ford Center.
Last week, just a day after the local ownership hopefuls publicly unveiled their plan, Gregoire said a conversation with Bennett left her doubtful that the current Sonics will remain in Seattle.
The governor said she still was holding out hope for another franchise that could keep the Sonics' name.