Seattle Sonics owner Clay Bennett announced today that he wants to build the team's new $530 million basketball arena in Renton..

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OLYMPIA — Seattle Sonics owner Clay Bennett announced today that the team wants to build its new $530 million basketball arena in Renton.

Bennett called Renton a city “on the verge of a transformation” and predicted a new arena there would “trigger vast economic development.”

He told the Senate Ways and Means Committee today that the Sonics and Storm made the decision last night, after weighing the Renton site against one in Bellevue.

Alex Pietsch, Renton’s economic-development director, said he learned of the selection at 1:30 p.m. today.
Bennett is asking for at least $300 million in taxpayer money to help pay for the new arena, which could cost as much as $530 million. The request has drawn skepticism from lawmakers.

Today’s hearing took testimony about the request, which the Legislature is considering.

The Sonics started with 29 potential arena sites in King County. In recent weeks, it had narrowed the choices down to either 14 acres on Bellevue’s Auto Row, just east of downtown, or 21 acres of Boeing land in Renton, at the south end of Lake Washington.

Bennett said the Bellevue site had a lot of “upsides,” including many nearby restaurants and stores. But he described the site as “very tight” and said, “It’s very expensive real estate.”

The Renton property is both larger and less expensive, he said.

King County executive Ron Sims testified today in support of the arena proposal. Afterward, he said he didn’t care which city got the nod.

“It’s in King County. That’s what I’m happy about,” Sims said.

Bennett told the committee that the Sonic owners are “bullish” on the National Basketball Association. He said the NBA is poised to expand internationally, especially in the Pacific Rim, and said Puget Sound is in a good spot to capitalize on that.

Near the Boeing site, Renton is pitching in about $28 million for road, sewer and parking improvements at The Landing, a 68-acre urban village under construction.

Bennett said he expects Renton to help with the arena development.

Sonics funding plan

Senate Bill 5986 would extend several taxes paying off existing sports stadiums to fund a new arena, arts groups and stadium maintenance.

Sales taxes: A .017 percent sales tax for Safeco Field debt would be extended by 17 years, to 2029, raising $150 million. A separate .016 percent sales tax for Qwest Field debt would be extended by eight years, to 2029, raising $77 million.

Restaurant tax: A 0.5 percent tax on restaurant meals and drinks for Safeco Field debt would remain until 2015, raising $75 million.

Car rental taxes: A 2 percent car-rental tax for Safeco Field debt, and another 0.75 percent car-rental tax for Kingdome debt, would be extended until 2012, raising $40 million.

Hotel/motel tax: After Qwest Field debt is paid off in 2021, a 2 percent tax on hotel- and motel-room rentals would be split between the new arena and arts groups, raising $81 million.

In a statement, Renton Mayor Kathy Keolker said the city is excited about today’s announcement, but that much work remains.

“The economic opportunities that this arena promises go far beyond Renton’s borders,” Keolker said, urging state legislators to extend existing restaurant, rental car, hotel/motel and sales taxes to help fund the Sonics arena.

The taxes are scheduled to expire after paying off bonds for construction of Qwest and Safeco fields.

Renton hasn’t made any promises about its own investment, Keolker said.

“If we can be assured of new revenue to the city, I will ask the City Council to consider making an investment commensurate with those new revenues,” she said.

Bellevue City Manager Steve Sarkozy said he’s not disappointed by the news and the city supports keeping the team in the region.

“It’s great that we can move this to another level,” he said. “The announcement of a preferred site announces to the Legislature that this a very real possibility.”

Staff reporter Ashley Bach contributed to this story.