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Bennett a fan of proposed Ford Center improvements

By Darnell Mayberry Modified: February 1, 2008 at 3:29 pm •  Published: February 1, 2008
Seattle SuperSonics chairman Clay Bennett gave a ringing endorsement to Oklahoma City's proposed $120 million arena improvement plan on Thursday, stating publicly for the first time that the upgrades would meet the Oklahoma-based ownership group's needs.

"We think that it is exactly what we need for the foreseeable future,” Bennett said. "We believe this is the appropriate thing to do. We support it. We think that it will be a great building for a long time.”

Bennett, speaking at Oklahoma City University about the Sonics and the business of sports, sounded as if it's only a matter of time before his team lands in Oklahoma City. Following his 45-minute discussion, Bennett said the Sonics ownership group is now concentrating its efforts on relocation since no new arena plan emerged in Seattle prior to his self-imposed Oct. 31 deadline.

"The goal is to come to Oklahoma,” Bennett said. "In November, we applied for relocation.”

The ownership group is scheduled to go to trial on June 16 with the city of Seattle to decide whether the team can fulfill the remaining two years of its arena contract through financial payments or must play in Seattle through the contract's expiration in September 2010.

The NBA must also approve the move within 30 days of its seven-member relocation committee making a recommendation to the league's board of governors in mid-April.

But a more immediate issue in Oklahoma's NBA future is a March 4 election for Oklahoma City residents to either approve or reject a one-cent sales tax to fund the arena project.

Expected upgrades include sit-down restaurants and clubs, larger locker rooms, a larger team store, improved bathrooms and general visual upgrades to the 100 and 300 concourse levels' floors, walls and ceilings.

Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett has called the project's approval vital to Oklahoma's chances of becoming an NBA city.

When asked about opposition by some citizens and city council members over the city including a $20-million, off-site practice facility to be used exclusively by the Sonics, Bennett pointed to the national trend of other markets typically doing the same.

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