An Indian tribe offering the Sonics a place to build a new home in Washington state unveiled a study Monday showing the proposed site is close enough to draw from the NBA team's Seattle-area fan base.
Commissioned by the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, the study counters Sonics chairman Clay Bennett's stated concern that the site was too far from the Seattle suburbs. The 26.5-acre site the tribe is offering to donate is next to a horse racing track in Auburn, a 25-mile car ride from downtown Seattle.
The study, conducted by Washington D.C.-based Brailsford and Dunlavey, says the 18,500-seat arena would cost $452 million if construction began in 2009. But the report does not address how it would be financed, which has been the biggest problem Bennett and his co-owners have had since purchasing the NBA franchise last year.
"We're not at that point yet,” said Muckleshoot spokesman Rollin Fatland. "The next thing that has to happen is if people think this is worth moving forward with we will re-engage Brailsford & Dunlavey to do the economic study and the financing study. Until that is completed it will be premature to talk about who's going to pay for what.”
What is also unclear is how receptive NBA commissioner David Stern will be to the proposed location. The Muckleshoot Tribe owns and operates gambling establishments, including a casino on its land. Stern, who is dealing with the aftereffects of a gambling scandal involving an NBA referee, has rejected repeated overtures to locate a team in Las Vegas.
Fatland said the Muckleshoots have not attempted to involve the NBA with the proposed arena site.
From a pure location standpoint, however, the study indicated little difference between the proposed Auburn site and the Sonics' current home at KeyArena. In fact, in some cases an Auburn arena compared more favorably.
Bennett, who has maintained he would move the team to Oklahoma City if an agreement on a new arena isn't reached by Oct. 31, received a copy of the report on Saturday. A spokesman for the Sonics' ownership group said the group would have no comment on the study.
The study projects that by 2012 there would be more households within a 30- , 45- and 60-minute car ride of an Auburn arena than KeyArena.