RANDALL BENTON / rbenton@sacbee.com

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, left, introduces Kevin Nagle, co-owner of Town Center in El Dorado Hills, during a news conference Wednesday. Johnson released a list of businesses that have agreed to spend $50 million over five years to be corporate sponsors of the Kings, should local investors succeed in buying the team and keeping it in Sacramento.

Sacramento, Seattle escalate battle for Kings

Published: Thursday, Mar. 28, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Monday, Sep. 23, 2013 - 8:09 am

The basketball war between Sacramento and Seattle ratcheted up Wednesday as both cities made moves to strengthen their claim to the Sacramento Kings.

The day after his City Council approved a $448 million downtown arena plan, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson released a list of 24 businesses that have pledged $50 million in team corporate sponsorships for the next five years.

He also said he plans to gather 10,000 season ticket purchase pledges to take with him to New York when he makes his case next week to keep the team in town. As of 9:35 p.m. Wednesday, the www.herewebuy.org website, which has been up since late January, had 7,369 pledges.

But Seattle scored a big headline of its own Wednesday.

According to court documents, the Seattle group seeking to buy the Kings has signed a tentative $15.1 million deal in bankruptcy court to take control of the 7 percent of the team owned by Sacramento businessman Bob Cook, who is in bankruptcy.

The group, led by San Francisco investment fund manager Chris Hansen, already has a deal in hand to buy a 65 percent share from the Maloof family, the team's current majority owners, and minority owner Bob Hernreich. Their plan calls for a $490 million arena south of Seattle's downtown.

That 65 percent purchase is subject to a vote of NBA team owners in April, and is being contested by a Sacramento group that wants to buy those shares.

Hansen's 7 percent purchase in bankruptcy court is not final, either, court officials said.

Any of the team's other four minority owners has the right to match that bid in the next 15 days. If one matches the bid, he has priority to buy the shares.

A spokesman for Hansen declined to comment when asked why he is attempting to buy the additional shares.

Sacramento Mayor Johnson said Wednesday he expected the move by Hansen and that he would announce a countermove in the next few days.

The mayor last month assembled a group of potential local minority owners who he indicated would bid in the bankruptcy auction. Wednesday, he said that group had not made a bid but declined to explain why.

"We are going to respond," he said. "We do have a plan. I'm not going to get into detail about that now. We have been positioned to make a play, and I will announce what that is in the next day or two."

Cook, the minority owner whose shares are in play, said he thinks a local matching offer will be made.

"I would be surprised if a local group didn't match that," he said. "I have the right to match. I can put a group together to match. I will know in a few days."

Another minority owner, John Kehriotis, was noncommittal as well about making a counteroffer. "Maybe," he said. "I have to see what's offered."

Kehriotis previously said he hoped to pull together an investment team to help him make an offer to buy the Maloof/Hernreich group's 65 percent share. On Wednesday, he said that effort has not yet jelled.

The two other minority owners, the Benvenuti family and David Lucchetti, could not be reached for comment.

The months-long tug of war for the team will take a major step toward a conclusion Wednesday when a select group of NBA owners meet in New York to review the Seattle purchase deal.

The NBA owners have agreed as well to meet with Johnson and his investment group to hear their pitch to keep the team in Sacramento.

The full NBA board of governors will vote on the Seattle sale during their New York meeting April 18 and 19.

KINGS"We do have a plan. I'm not going to get into detail about that now. We have been positioned to make a play, and I will announce what that is in the next day or two."

MAYOR KEVIN JOHNSON ARENA VOTE

The Sacramento City Council on Tuesday night agreed to a nonbinding term sheet on a $448 million arena at Downtown Plaza. Here are comments from Mayor Kevin Johnson and council members at the meeting, and how they voted:

"We are on track to do something very historic. We get a chance to say we are going to keep our team. We want to be able to keep what's ours. We get a chance to change the trajectory of this community for many, many years. We're going to go back to New York and let them know."

– Kevin Johnson - yes

"Obviously there is risk involved, but that is what leadership is about. And I think the rewards are great. It is a chance to invest in our future. We need jobs, frankly. I think this is just a huge opportunity for our city."

– Jay Schenirer - yes (from Morocco, where it was 4:30 a.m.)

"We are demonstrating that business and labor can work together. This represents a major step for this city in leading us out of this depression."

– Allen Warren - yes

"I think this is the best investor group we've ever had come to the table. This is our opportunity. This is our moment. This could be the golden age of Sacramento that we are bringing."

– Steve Hansen - yes

"I'm really excited for what it represents for my community (North Natomas). The Kings would still play there until we get a new stadium. During that time we would be moving forward with what (redevelopment) is going to happen for Natomas."

– Angelique Ashby - yes

"Some ask me, Kevin, what would you support? If it was a Seattle-like deal with a 40 percent city contribution with a return on our investment. Is the deal good enough? For me, it is not. The risks, I believe, outweigh the rewards."

– Kevin McCarty - no

"I'd see a lot of cities pointing to Sacramento, saying that's how you do a partnership. This city is big enough. We can walk and chew gum at the same time – we can get the Community Center Theater (refurbishing) done (also). We are a big enough, smart enough city."

– Steve Cohn - yes

"This has been a rushed proposal. We had very little time to listen to our constituents. The public did have concerns about this process. For me, it is about protecting the taxpayers on existing services. To me, the risk outweighs the benefits."

– Darrell Fong - no

"I totally get the economic value of keeping the Kings in Sacramento, so I support taking this next step."

– Bonnie Pannell - yes

Call The Bee's Tony Bizjak, (916) 321-1059. Follow him on Twitter @tonybizjak.

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