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Council focuses on practice facility in Sonics' lease

Oklahoman Modified: March 18, 2008 at 3:57 pm •  Published: March 18, 2008
The operation and upkeep of a city-owned NBA practice facility emerged today as the chief concern among members of the Oklahoma City Council considering a preliminary lease agreement with the Seattle SuperSonics.

Councilmen Sam Bowman and Pete White said the city should take into consideration during its negotiations with the Sonics what would happen if the practice facility needs upgrades in the near future.

Oklahoma City voters recently approved a sales-tax extension that would pay for the construction of an approximately $24 million practice facility, along with upgrades to the Ford Center arena. The lease agreement with Sonics owner Clay Bennett calls for the team to pay $100,000 in annual rent for the practice facility, but White questioned a clause that sets aside 20 percent of that to pay for maintenance.

"If you look down the road to where some kind of capital expenditure might be mandated, that's not going to accumulate very much money in today's market," White said. "In five years, that's $100,000, and $100,000 is not a lot of money for a capital improvement on a $20 million project."

White said he didn't want to get into a position where funding for the practice facility would come out of the city's general fund.

"My point is that we ought to be realistic about it because that's something that will come back at some point in time," White said.

Mayor Mick Cornett, who was out of town when the lease agreement was placed on the council agenda last Friday, said he was "quite pleased at where we ended up."

"Financially we're not in a position to start having to go to our general fund on an annual basis to subsidize operations," Cornett said. "So we kind of felt like all along, we were going to get to a point where we could break even on the general fund."

The council approved a $250,000 contract with the Benham Cos. as the architect for the Ford Center renovations but will not vote on the lease terms until next week. The agreement is only a general outline for major terms of the lease should the SuperSonics move from Seattle to Oklahoma City, and a more thorough deal still must be negotiated.

The 15-year deal calls for the SuperSonics to pay the city $1.6 million annually to use the Ford Center and another $409,000 per year to be able to re-sell the naming rights currently owned by local Ford car dealerships.

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