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Score 1 for Clayton Bennett

I have to admit that I didn’t quite hear anything to make me lean either direction.

Since reading initial reports of Mr. Clayton Bennett’s press conference yesterday I have re-run the interview with the thought that perhaps I missed something.

Maybe I missed the declaration the Key Arena was not an option as reported by the Associated Press.

“All options are still on the table” Mr. Bennett replied when asked about the renovating the Key. I can’t quite be sure where that opinion came from.

If I did not some how miss the doom and gloom scenarios reported initially then perhaps it was the cause for unabashed enthusiasm for a multi-purpose facility that I read about this morning in columns from Jayda Evans of the Seattle Times or displayed by Frank Hughes on KJR yesterday evening. Unfortunately what I found was pretty much what I remembered, a quick mention with very little detail or design.

I was struck today by the generally optimistic reaction to Mr. Bennett. Essentially it is the first time I can remember any optimism in this discussion for nearly a year.

For whatever reasons the words spoken by Mr. Bennett seemed to resonate well with the press and politicians, particularly those who had a few moments of one-on-one time with the Oklahoma businessman. He appears to be extremely convincing during these sessions and has generated positive feedback in almost all instances. Even Seattle politicians, thought to be out of the picture were positive in their reviews.

Over the last week a critical new piece of information has emerged which has been partially responsible for the sudden sense of optimism. Upon closer review it appears that Oklahoma City’s Ford Center is not the jewel it was originally thought to be. The arena was constructed between 1999 and 2002 the now 4 year old facility cost a mere $93 million dollars. Differences in land and labor costs between Oklahoma and Seattle cannot offset the fact that this Arena was not built on an NBA budget. While it may be a fine home for Arena Football and even the NBA on a temporary basis it is not a long term home for an NBA team. In fact it may not even compare to Key Arena in terms of it’s ability to generate revenue. Compared to a new regional facility it is severely lacking in the very amenities that the NBA has looked for in Seattle. Upon second look and despite extremely favorable lease terms The Ford Center may not be the slam-dunk opportunity that many had portrayed it to be.

Now that people have come to understand that Oklahoma City does not hold an insurmountable edge it appears that they have started to actually listen to Mr. Bennett. In his first significant public appearance since announcing the purchase on July 18th he scored a crucial point in his meeting on Wednesday. Without giving any details or promises he used the appeal of Seattle’s most popular summer hangout, Safeco Field, as an opportunity to redefine the argument slightly. Referring to a Tuesday visit to the Mariners home field Mr. Bennett described a future NBA arena as a world class amenity to the region. Where arguments of “competitiveness in the NBA marketplace” have failed to capture anyone’s attention it seems as if dreaming bigger and better may have some appeal.

Safeco Field as a destination has proven to be an absolute treasure. Each baseball season millions of fans and visitors visit the venue to bask in the countries most moderate and pleasant summer weather, enjoy sweeping views of the great city, and one of the best fan experiences this side of Pac-Bell Ballpark in San Francisco. In addition to being a great place to attend a game it has proven to have broad appeal for the most casual of fans simply as a place to go for a great afternoon or evening out. Envisioning a new arena with similar indoor opportunities seems to have intrigued people. Perhaps we could fill our winters with not only NBA Basketball, but NHL Hockey or Arena League Football. It is not too much to imagine a rotating series of shows and displays, a building that provides benefits for our community not just during sporting events, but on a daily basis, throughout the year.

As a member of Save Our Sonics and Storm I am closely watching the evolution of all the arguments in this matter. Suddenly it seems clear that perception will be everything in this battle. Perhaps as part of a two pronged approach SOS&S will have a clear role in moving discussion amongst the general population away from dollars and cents cost to the cultural benefit of the asset we are going to be paying for. We will remind people of the families who bond over sporting events, the young children who proudly wear their city’s name on their shirts, and the teams 40 year history in the region. Bennett on the other hand will turn the discussion amongst civil leaders away from one of how to make the team viable, and towards providing yet another icon destination in this city. He will be able to sell the fact that, not only is the team a regional treasure, but this new facility will be also.

Somehow I missed it during the press conference, but I am glad that others did not. In the battle for public perception it is nice to be able to say this: