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Seattle Times reporters Percy Allen, Jim Brunner and Danny O'Neil are filing updates from the courthouse throughout the day.

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June 26, 2008 10:02 AM

Licata, not always wild about the Sonics, but says team should be held to lease

Posted by Danny O'Neil

Seattle City Councilmember Nick Licata just finished answering questions from Sonics lead attorney Brad Keller. Licata was the final witness called by the Sonics.

Keller began by asking Licata about Initiative 91, and emphasizing that under that initiative, the computing of the fair-market value of a civic sports arena specifically excludes, "goodwill, cultural or general economic benefits to the City." Keller entered as an exhibit the explanation of I-91 written out by the City Attorney's Office displayed in the court. He also asked Licata if I-91 passed by a substantial margin, which it did.

In spring 2007, while the Sonics owners were lobbying for public funding in Olympia to help pay for a new arena in Renton, Licata was voicing his opinion that excessive public subsidies for sports arenas were against the public interest. Licata said other city officials in Olympia were taking the opposite opinion. Keller expressed surprise that there were city officials in Olympia voicing support for a new arena. Licata then said he assumed there were, but he didn't know that.

"You were just guessing a moment ago, weren't you?" Keller said.

Keller pointed out Licata's role in a study of potential uses for KeyArena should the Sonics leave. The center could become a center for music, film and technology. Licata characterized this as a worst-case scenario, should the Sonics leave. It's a plan, Licata said, to make sure KeyArena would remain viable with the Sonics absent. Keller then had footage from a City Council committee meeting in which Licata was discussing the plan, calling these focuses of film, music and technology as reflective of the area. After it concluded, Licata offered a joke.

"Great speech," Licata said.

Keller responded that indeed it was.

"Certainly not someone with his head down talking about worst-case scenarios," Keller said.

The final thrust of Keller's examination focused on Licata's quotes in a Sports Illustrated story in 2006, in which Licata told a reporter that the economic impact -- if the Sonics left town -- would be near zero. He also said on the impact of their departure, on a cultural basis, would be close to zero.

Licata was shown a copy of the magazine.

"Given all the publicity, I'm surprised I'm not on the front cover," Licata said.

The judge chimed in. "That might be reserved for me," Pechman said.

Keller's questions focused on the disregard Licata expressed for the team in the Sports Illustrated article.

Greg Narver cross-examined Licata for the city. He pointed out comments in a newsletter from Licata in which the councilmember said his quotes in Sports Illustrated were a "glib, foolish remark." He characterized them as "smug and wrong."

The cross examination concluded with Licata's opinion that the Sonics should be held to the term of the lease over an objection by the defense.

Licata was the last witness called by the Sonics attorneys. They introduced two exhibits and have rested their case.

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