20 January 2007
Meanwhile in unsunny Seattle
Clay Bennett, owner of the Sonics, writes a letter to the governor saying taxpayers should contribute at least $300 million to a new arena, and it's tough to say how much the Sonic ownership can contribute. That's a little tough to rally behind. It almost seems like it's designed to fail. One other weird thing: Clay Bennett is tight with Rick Horrow, who is the consultant responsible for most of the public stadiums money in the United States. He's THE expert on this. Horrow got the deal done for the big stadium in Oklahoma City, among others. I don't know that Horrow is not involved here, but the other main consultants are listed in the letter, and there's no mention of him. It just seems ... that if Clay Bennett sincerely wanted to get this deal done in Seattle, Horrow would be the point man, right?
This passage from Bennett's letter is presumably what set off Abbott's alarm:
There are several factors that keep us from providing you an absolute number on the amount of private investment today. There is still a great deal of modeling going on about the potential financial return of the building and the benefit it will provide the team. My obligation to the Sonic ownership group is that I not enter into any transaction that does not give us at least a fair chance to earn a reasonable profit over time.
The amount of our contribution is made more complex by the financial realities of a team with a non-economic lease and poor financial performance that will likely lead to losses of $50 million or more before we can get into a new arena. The magnitude of those losses has to impact the amount we can contribute toward an arena.
And surely it does, but the phrasing, to be charitable, doesn't sell the premise. Governor Gregoire could simply fire back, "If your position is that wobbly, perhaps you should be in some other business." At the very least, she'd get cheers from the We Hate Sports contingent in Seattle proper.
Then again, Gregoire has been less than consistent in her stance on the matter. Last year she insisted that any arena proposal demanded a public vote; this week she's more amenable to cutting a deal without an election.
On the larger issue of whether stadium deals are worthwhile at all, Abbott is unequivocal:
I'm not sold on the way stadiums are financed in the U.S., but I'm also not sold on the idea that Seattle can get by just fine as the only major North American city without one. The choice isn't spend all that money now or not at all, the choice is spend all that money now or later when you then also have to lure an anchor tenant.
I'm still waiting for the Basketball Fairness Act of 2007.