NBA commissioner David Stern says KeyArena renovation not an option for Sonics

OKLAHOMA CITY — NBA commissioner David Stern on Tuesday shot down a proposal by a group of Seattle businessmen seeking to renovate KeyArena in order to keep the Sonics in the city.

Stern said the NBA does not view a renovation as a solution because the site could not undergo a proper expansion.

On Tuesday, Stern visited Oklahoma City with three NBA owners who were impressed enough with a presentation to think it should be the future home for the Sonics.

While taking questions about an NBA relocation subcommittee's recommendation to move the Sonics to Oklahoma City, Stern said, "The reason that this journey began was because KeyArena was not an adequate arena going forward and there were a lot of recommendations made for another arena ... but the tax revenues and the various contributions weren't forthcoming.

"I would say that as far as we know, the footprint of Key is at present time not viewed as adequate to support what's necessary going forward."

A group including Microsoft Corp. Chief Executive Steve Ballmer has floated a proposal to buy the Sonics and pay half of a $300 million renovation plan, in the hope that the city of Seattle and state of Washington would split the remainder.

Sonics owner Clay Bennett has repeatedly said his team is not for sale.

In Oklahoma City on Tuesday, Gov. Brad Henry, Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops and other representatives of the city, state and sports community came out to welcome Stern, New Jersey Nets owner Lewis Katz, Indiana Pacers owner Herb Simon and Los Angeles Lakers vice president Jeanie Buss as Oklahoma City brought out fancy cars and hard facts to woo its first major-league sports franchise.

"It was a pretty full presentation and pretty much a tour de force on behalf of Oklahoma that I'd say impressed the members of the committee greatly," Stern said.

In Seattle, Mayor Greg Nickels said the city doesn't see itself in competition with Oklahoma City.

"We think it's in the NBA's interest to stay in the 12th-largest market," he said at a news conference at Pike Place Market, where he was addressing a plan for renovations there.

While a Sonics relocation would mean a move to a much smaller market, Stern said he was encouraged by the amount of support from Oklahoma City-area leaders and fans, and the revenue potential the team would have in a downtown arena being remodeled with $121 million in public funds approved by voters earlier this month.

"I think Seattle is actually a terrific market. It just doesn't have an NBA-ready arena of the future that's been agreed to by all parties for many years," Stern said. "It's a very strong market that has, in fact, supported NBA basketball well over the years. When you come to a place like Oklahoma, you look for the single-team market as opposed to, for example, a market that has three or more professional sports leagues in it."

On Tuesday morning, City Council members in Oklahoma City approved terms of a 15-year lease with the Sonics that would require the team to pay the city $1.6 million annually to use the Ford Center and another $409,000 per year to be able to resell the arena's naming rights.

Former Oklahoma state Rep. Wanda Jo Stapleton voiced concerns to the Council that the lease leaves the city in position to pay for any cost overruns on the Ford Center renovations and the construction of an approximately $24 million practice facility funded by the sales-tax extension.

Oklahoma City City Manager Jim Couch assured Stapleton that the lease would allow the city to make any cuts necessary to keep the project within its budget, and Mayor Mick Cornett said it was the city's intent to keep the renovations within whatever funds are raised by the sales-tax extension.

"We have a very good history of building stuff on time and being financially responsible," Cornett said.

Katz, the Nets owner, said he was impressed that 62 percent of city voters favored taxing themselves to fund the Ford Center improvements, and by the coalition of support among leadership, including representatives of Tulsa that the NBA considered a part of Oklahoma City's broader market.

"This is wonderful for the league, wonderful for basketball, a strong, wonderful ownership group that you have out here that can lead this thing," Katz said.

"My hope is that we'll find a settlement with Seattle that will give them the opportunity to have a replacement team. Seattle should have an NBA team, and I think David expressed that in the meetings. We all feel that way. My guess is you haven't heard the end of the Seattle story."

Katz, Simon and Buss said Tuesday that they would recommend that the NBA's relocation committee approve the Sonics' request to move to Oklahoma City. The NBA Board of Governors will vote April 18 on the proposal.

The Sonics also have a federal court case scheduled for June to determine whether they can break their lease with Seattle that runs through 2010.

Seattle Times staff reporter Sharon Chan contributed to this report.