Sports

Muckleshoot site is viable to build a new Sonics arena

The study is in and the news is positive for the Seattle SuperSonics possibly bringing their act to Auburn in the future.

Now it’s just up to the money men. And that’s where the problem lies.

These are the same Oklahoma City owners that have been talking out of both sides of their mouths since purchasing the team last year from Howard Schultz.

First, they promised everybody that would listen that their sole intention was keeping the Sonics in Seattle. But that changed recently when one of those same money men came out with a statement saying they never had any intention of keeping the team in Seattle.

So what do you really believe?

These are also the same owners that traded away the Sonics’ two leading scorers following last season — Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis — and have been doing everything in their power to alienate themselves from the Seattle fanbase.

So now the Oklahoma City-based ownership group, led by Clay Bennett, has another viable option in the quest to keep the Sonics playing basketball in the Seattle area. And they can thank the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe.

The Muckleshoots released a market feasibility study on Monday which states that a 26.5-acre piece of land that the tribe owns next to the Emerald Downs horse racing track in Auburn could support an 18,500-seat arena that the Sonics could use as their home.

So now we’ll really see if Bennett and his billionaire buddies were sincere about exploring every option to keep the Sonics in the Seattle area.

I guess you could say the basketball is in their court, so to speak. Because it seems like the Muckleshoots’ proposal is a very viable one.

Tribal spokesman Rollin Fatland told a crowd at Emerald Downs Monday that the tribe is willing to give the Sonics, or whoever builds the facility, the land for the project, contribute parking from Emerald Downs and also help pay for a financial analysis that would focus on how to finance the project.

The feasibility study, paid for by the Muckleshoots, was completed by the consulting firm of Brailsford & Dunlavey out of Washington, D.C. According to consultant Jason Thompson, a senior associate with Brailsford & Dunlavey, a preliminary project budget has an arena, parking garage and other land improvements costing $452 million if construction began in 2009.

“The tribe wants to do this as a contribution to the region. That is it,” Fatland said. “It’s an altruistic move on the part of the tribe.”

The Muckleshoots’ land is five acres larger than the proposed site Bennett was seeking in Renton for a potential arena that would have cost more than $500 million, including the acquisition of the land.

That plan failed when the State Legislature declined a proposal that called for about $300 million in public money for the arena.

Figuring out the financing package to pay for the Auburn arena is the next step for the Muckleshoots. The tribe is willing to bankroll a study on different financial options, but would like to have a plan developed before the Legislature reconvenes in January.

The start of the Legislature could be too late for Bennett, who has set an Oct. 31 deadline for having a plan in place or filing relocation papers with the NBA for moving the team to Oklahoma City.

“We know the ownership is anxious to get a resolution here,” Fatland said. “It would serve well to move expeditiously to get it done.”

The tribe already has spent about $100,000 on the market feasibility study, which was presented at Emerald Downs by Thompson.

According to the document, a drive-time analysis shows no real difference between the proposed location in Auburn and the Sonics’ current location at KeyArena at the Seattle Center. Auburn is predicted to show positive growth in the targeted population for an NBA team, while the area around KeyArena is predicted to lose population from that targeted population growth area.

But there are some drawbacks to Auburn, according to the study.

A survey of major companies in the region revealed that Auburn is not the preferred site, although a majority of companies would support the project if it remains the only solution. Finding alternative forms of transportation to the site, and accessibility to the site from Highway 167, also could be an issue.

There also are concerns about the lack of restaurants and other entertainment options near the site. But there is a 30-acre parcel of land that could be developed.

Whether Bennett has any interest in such a project is unclear. Bennett apparently hasn’t spoken with the Muckleshoot group since an introductory meeting in February, but has maintained that he’s open to alternative suggestions after his proposal in Renton died in the Legislature.

The basketball is in their court.

Sports editor Casey Olson: sports@fedwaymirror.com

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