Sonics Trial Blog
Seattle Times reporters Percy Allen, Jim Brunner and Danny O'Neil are filing updates from the courthouse throughout the day.
June 26, 2008 12:09 PM
Posted by Danny O'Neil
The closing argument is being presented by Paul Lawrence, the city's lead attorney.
He said the city agreed to a public-private partnership to renovate the Coliseum in order to get all of the benefits that come with having a professional basketball team in town.
That goes beyond simply getting a share of the revenue.
"First, the city is not a developer," Lawrence told Judge Marsha Pechman. "The city is not like a standard landlord. KeyArena is not like a stripmall or a shopping mall. Finally, the Sonics are not like a Wal-Mart store."
The mall developer wants to make money. The city, however, is not motivated by that bottom line.
"Rather than earn a profit, the city seeks to provides benefits to its citizens," Lawrence said.
And the city agreed to help fund the renovation of the Coliseum into what is now KeyArena knowing it would keep the team through 2010 and get all the benefits that come with having that team.
Pechman interrupted Lawrence's argument to ask about the reciprocal component of that agreement -- that the Sonics bargained for the city to maintain the arena as a viable venue.
Lawrence responded that the issues related to maintenance are explicitly spelled out in the agreement and he argued against any notion that the maintenance requirement was to keep KeyArena as a state-of-the-art arena in the NBA.
"The notion that it would be renovated into a greater, bigger arena is not supported by anything in the record," Lawrence said. Rather, a gradual decline in the adequacy of the building is pretty standard.
"The fact that it's no longer state of the art is not surprising or unexpected," Lawrence said. "But there is nothing in the lease that says you get to leave because time ages the facility."
Lawrence said Sonics owner Clay Bennett was told by Mayor Greg Nickels, after the sale, that the lease would be enforced and that the Sonics ownership spelled out that it understood and assumed it would take on the liabilities and obligations of the previous ownership group led by Howard Schultz.
One concern Pechman voiced was that the parties would keep coming back to the court.
"What I'm worried about is, are we going to have ongoing obligations about the city undermining tenant by plotting to have someone else buy them out?" Pechman asked. "Going to the NBA, and undermining their business position or leaking their secrets. I'd like to know how I can be assured we're not going to be back here with those kinds of problems."
Lawrence had previously spelled out that arbitration is the means of settling operational disputes in all matters except those regarding hazardous waste. So suite sales and concessions are not a subjects eligible to be brought back to the court. Those types of issues would be settled by an arbitrator.
Lawrence responded to Pechman's question that these were two sides that were sophisticated and upstanding people who would move forward.
Pechman wasn't so certain about how well they'd work together, and she pointed out that in July 2007 the mayor wouldn't return Clay Bennett's call to set up a meeting to discuss an exit of the lease. Pechman pointed out that the mayor and Bennett haven't gotten together to talk about anything since the 2007 failure to find funding from the state Legislature.
"Well that's not real sophisticated when they both go to their corners," Pechman said.
Lawrence said a ruling in terms of the lease would settle the dispute between the city and the team, and both sides would move forward once that dispute is decided.
"That's the fundamental dispute," Lawrence said. "That will end based on what your honor decides, and then the parties will move forward on a rational basis."
Lawrence is continuing his closing argument.
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