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Seattle mayor wants lease honored
City's key witness hopes OKC ownership will sell

By Chris Casteel Published: June 17, 2008
ller asked Nickels if he had been working to help a group of local businessman who want to buy the team. Nickels said he supported the local group but denied that he was working toward helping them buy the team. Keller then showed a clip of Nickels' taped deposition in which he agreed that he was working to help the Seattle group.

Keller also tried to pin Nickels down on whether the lease with KeyArena, which lacks the amenities and space of many more modern arenas, had become "economically dysfunctional.”

"I wouldn't go that far,” Nickels replied.

Keller then showed another clip of Nickels' deposition in which he agreed the lease had become economically dysfunctional.

Nickels conceded that several attempts had been made to secure public financing for a new arena or renovations to the current one but that they had failed. The state's leadership and the city's voters have refused to put up public money. But the mayor said he was optimistic that, if the Sonics remain here for another two years, a deal could be put together to keep the team here over the long term.

"The longer this team is here, the more possibilities might open up to keep them here as a long-term member of our community,” Nickels said.

Legal experts say forcing a tenant to fulfill a lease is rare when the tenant can compensate the landlord financially. And the owners claim they can.

But the city contends that the team has a value beyond the cost of the lease and that money isn't an appropriate remedy in this case.

Nickels called the team "a piece of the civic fabric of our community.”

Paul Lawrence, an attorney for the city, said in opening arguments on Monday that the owners are sophisticated businessmen "who know what it means to sign and assume a contract.”

And he said the owners have the means to absorb financial losses if the team is forced to stay for two more years.

Keller, the attorney for the owners, repeatedly compared the relationship between the city and the team to a failed marriage and said the two parties shouldn't be forced to live under the same roof.

Since the team would leave in two years anyway, Keller said, "what civic pride will there be for a lame-duck franchise? The last two years of the lease is all this case is about. Rightly or wrongly, the owners have decided to move the team to Oklahoma City where it can make a profit ... because there's a competitive arena there and a community that has embraced the team.”