Sonics' solution so simple
By Danny Westneat
Seattle Times staff columnist
Forget Renton. Forget building the world's most expensive arena out in the 'burbs.
It's time for the Sonics to come home. Now that state lawmakers have sensibly ignored the bloated fantasy of a $500 million Sonics and Storm palace in Renton, the burning question is: What next?
Are the teams as good as gone to Oklahoma?
Is Seattle stuck with a debt-ridden KeyArena?
Is this broken relationship irreconcilable?
Without a big shift, the answers are yes, yes and yes.
But the 40-year marriage of team and city doesn't have to end like this. Compromise is a lost art, but there is one right under our noses that could save the Sonics without exorbitant public subsidies.
It would build a modern arena with double the space of the tiny Key. It would eliminate the debt that's crippling Seattle Center. It would involve no state money and no sales taxes.
The idea is simple. Sonics owners say they're willing to spend "more than $100 million" on the Renton arena that the state just shunned. What if they put that $100 million-plus into KeyArena instead?
A year ago, the team, under different owners, was pushing a $220 million rehab of KeyArena that would create, the team said, a "first-rate multipurpose facility."
Trouble was, then-owner Howard Schultz had lost a lot of money and wasn't willing to pony up much more. But the new owners say they are. With Renton all but dead, why not meet back at the Key?
The Sonics and the public could go 50-50 on the cost of renovating KeyArena. Say the price is up to $250 million. That's $125 million each.
The Sonics were going to spend at least that much in Renton, anyway. For the public, it's a quarter-of-a-billion dollars less than Renton.
It would leave us with just one basketball arena — happily, the one we've already got. We could drop the sales tax on restaurants. Imagine: a tax canceled! There would be zero state money needed. The entire public share could be paid for by extending local hotel/motel and car-rental taxes.
Seattle Center would get a new arena, with money to pay off the old arena's debt — lifting a white elephant from the city's back. There's even money left over, $35 million that could be used for arts or recreation projects around the county.
Best, it would keep the teams where they belong. In Seattle. Even Chris Van Dyk, backer of Initiative 91 limiting sports subsidies, said he could support such a meet-in-the-middle deal. And that it could comply with the initiative.
I ran it by the Sonics and some government types. All were skeptical. The Sonics now say fixing the Key is a "Band-Aid," despite hawking it a year ago. The politics are radioactive. The city and team have not spoken this year.
C'mon, are we really this dysfunctional? Here's an idea to save the Sonics, save Seattle Center and, compared to the alternatives, save some money.
Of course, it requires leadership from our politicians. And compromise from our pro sports team. So as good as I think this idea is, I don't suppose I'll hold my breath.