Seattle City Council passes ordinance holding Sonics to their lease
But Oct. 31 deadline looms for Seattle to keep team

By Darnell Mayberry Modified: September 12, 2007 at 12:15 am •  Published: September 12, 2007
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Peter Steinbrueck erupted in laughter, tickled by the question of what the passing of an ordinance Monday in Seattle means for the future of the Sonics in Washington.

"I'm sorry,” he said. "I'm laughing because it doesn't mean a whole lot in my opinion.”

Steinbrueck is one of eight Seattle City Council members who unanimously approved an ordinance that, in theory, will prohibit the Sonics from escaping their contractual agreement for the use of KeyArena before its expiration in 2010. One council member was absent.

"I wasn't hugely enthusiastic about the ordinance,” said Steinbrueck, who voted in favor of the bill only to show support for keeping the team. "I think it is of little utility or purpose. It does send a message that the council is seeking to uphold the provisions of the contract through its expiration.”

Sonics managing partner Clay Bennett has maintained that he will apply for relocation to Oklahoma City if an agreement on a publicly-funded arena is not reached by Oct. 31. A spokesman for the Sonics ownership group declined to comment on the ordinance.

But Seattle leaders admitted that the legislation is mostly a symbolic statement targeted toward Bennett rather than a measure that actually will force the Sonics to remain until 2010.

"More than anything it just reinforces that the council, along with the mayor, is interested in retaining the team,” said Councilman Richard McIver, who chairs the Finance and Budget committee and introduced the ordinance. "If we can keep them here as long as possible, maybe we can convince the NBA as well as Mr. Bennett that Seattle is a good place to keep the Sonics.”

Steinbrueck, however, said the ordinance is not absolute and can be rescinded. Asked whether the ordinance can force the Sonics to play in Seattle until 2010, Steinbrueck said no.

"The team could pick up and leave,” he said. "They might have to pay a price, which would send it into litigation obviously since we have a contract. But their obligation is a cash out of the value of whatever the remainder of the contract is worth. If they wanted to pay it all up front right now, I don't know why they couldn't.”

Neither the Seattle City Council nor Mayor Greg Nickels have supported Bennett's proposal of a new $500 million multipurpose facility.