SuperSonic owner Barry Ackerley has applied to the National Basketball Association to relocate his franchise next season - opening the opportunity to move to another market if arena negotiations with Seattle fail.
Ackerley, who has given the city until the end of the season to come up with plans for a state-of-the-art arena, met the league's March 1 deadline for change of venue and filed his request and accompanying $50,000 fee, NBA Executive Vice President Russ Granik said yesterday.
Sonic President Bob Whitsitt said the club plans to inform the league of its desired relocation site April 24 at the NBA board of governors meeting in New York.
The Sonics have considered short-term sites - including the Kingdome - and talked with Memphis, San Diego and other cities about a permanent move.
``We're not looking to move, and we want to stay here,'' Whitsitt said.
Whitsitt, who said in December that the club would not apply for relocation for next season, indicated that the reversal in the club's position was not a reflection of how negotiations are going with the city.
A spokesman for Mayor Norm Rice said he expected the Sonics to apply for relocation, adding that an agreement between the sides could come well before the April 24 deadline.
``We hope to have an agreement long before that,'' said Mark Murray, Rice's spokesman. ``The discussions are going well. That bond (for relocation) - that's just to preserve their options.''
The NBA has stepped up its role in the negotiations, releasing a letter from Rod Thorn, league vice president of operations, that calls for short-term improvements at the Seattle Center Coliseum.
Thorn, who inspected the Kingdome and Tacoma Dome as potential temporary sites until the new arena is ready, recommended the Coliseum only for the ``short term'' unless repairs are made.
Thorn echoed the same complaints that the Sonics have had since they began to plead their case for a new arena about four years ago, suggesting improvements in the bathroom facilities, electrical system and drainage for rain in the 14,250-seat Coliseum.
Pragmatically, the Sonics may have no other local choice but the Coliseum next season. While Granik said the Kingdome and Tacoma Dome appear acceptable as temporary sites, officials at those arenas say they might not be able to accommodate the Sonics because of scheduling conflicts.
Kingdome Director Neil Campbell said that because of trade shows and other events only three days remain open to the Sonics in January 1991. Murray said Rice is committed to addressing Coliseum problems.
Whitsitt refused to say whether he has talked lately with cities interested in gaining an NBA franchise. If negotiations break down with the city and Ackerley chooses to move out of state, the league would use that $50,000 to begin a feasibility study on the Sonics' desired location.
Approval for relocation takes a majority vote of the 27-member board of governors.
No NBA franchise has relocated since the Kansas City Kings went to Sacramento in 1985.
Virginia Anderson, Seattle Center director, does not expect the Sonics to play out their Coliseum lease until its final year, 1995.
``If I were a betting woman I'd say they'll be here (Coliseum) until a new arena is completed, because I don't think they really want to leave Seattle,'' Anderson said. ``So I expect probably two more seasons of the Sonics at the Coliseum.''