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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
Seattle officials are asking that Bennett and his ownership group put $100 million toward renovating KeyArena.

A spokesman for Mayor Nickels said there haven't been any meetings between Nickels and Bennett and that there are none scheduled. Nickels has maintained that he is only interested in discussing with Bennett a partnership in renovating KeyArena and keeping the Sonics in Seattle until 2010 and beyond.

Bennett has upheld his Oct. 31 deadline, although he told the Seattle Times last week that he would not apply for relocation on Nov. 1 to avoid overshadowing the team's season opener.

The Sonics' contract to use KeyArena might be enough to keep the team in Seattle, though, according to Clark Griffith, a Minneapolis-based attorney who specializes in business, antitrust and sports law.

The Sonics have a "Premises Use & Occupancy Agreement” with the city of Seattle rather than the commonly used term "lease.” It's a small fact, Griffith said, but one that could have a big impact on what city the Sonics call home in 2008.

By law, Griffith said, a lease is a grant of property rights which a proprietor expects money in return. In a premises use and occupancy agreement, a proprietor is looking for a permanent tenant rather than money alone.

Under the terms of the KeyArena contract, most disputes between the Sonics and Seattle would be settled by arbitration. But those that involve the termination of the lease would go to litigation.

"This is not a situation where a team can simply leave and pay them some money,” Griffith said. "Use and occupancy agreement can be enforced by a court.”

While councilman McIver said he was cautiously optimistic that a deal would ultimately be reached, Steinbrueck refused to call Monday's ordinance a win for Seattle's hopes of keeping the Sonics.

"I would consider a win a plan that ensures the retention of the Sonics and the Storm here beyond the end of this contract,” Steinbrueck said. "It's not going to really serve our purposes just to keep them here through 2010. That's marginal. That's just a few years off.

"What we want is to keep them here for the next generation. And I don't see that this ordinance does anything toward that end.”


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