Seattle moves forward on NBA arena

Seattle hasn’t had an NBA team since 2008, when owner Clay Bennett moved the Sonics to Oklahoma City and renamed them the Thunder. - Courtesy photo
Seattle hasn’t had an NBA team since 2008, when owner Clay Bennett moved the Sonics to Oklahoma City and renamed them the Thunder.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and King County Executive Dow Constantine held something of a surprise press conference on Feb. 16. The city, county and private investor Christopher Hansen have been working on plans to build an arena in the SODO area of Seattle that would house both an NBA and NHL team.

Along with the announcement of the arena plans, Constantine and McGinn also unveiled a "panel of community leaders and experts to evaluate" Hansen's proposal.

According to the county, Hansen has proposed to raise $290 million of private money for the project. Along with raising that sum, Hansen and his investor group would take on the costs of bringing an NBA team back to Seattle, and also seek a partner to bring an NHL team to the area. Additional development and construction costs would be taken on using a combination of tax revenues generated from the facility, and property and rental incomes generated by the teams.

"This is great news for Seattle," McGinn said. "On first look, we have an exciting proposal that, if successful, would mean hundreds of millions of dollars of private investment in our city — an investment that means even more during our city's fragile economic recovery. And I think that the work by city and county staff, combined with outside expertise on arena financing, have resulted in a proposal that protects our city general fund from any negative impacts and protects the city into the future, should there be any revenue shortfalls."

Some of the protections referenced by McGinn come from an agreement that the city, county and Hansen's group reached as this proposal has been put together. The guidelines established by the three parties include the new arena being self-funding, and not relying on new taxes; that existing city and county funds not be compromised; that the private investor group would bear the brunt of any revenue shortfalls; that any cost overruns would also fall on Hansen's investor group; and that Hansen's group also spend its money on a study for ways to keep Key Arena a vital structure in the Seattle Center.

Constantine said Hansen's commitment and willingness to provide a large portion of the funding for an arena means this idea should be taken seriously.

"When someone comes forward and offers to put up nearly $300 million of private money and bring the NBA back to the city of his birth — that's something you have to look at very seriously," Constantine said. "I strongly support returning NBA basketball to King County and, particularly these days, such a proposal would need to be self-funding. On first read, it appears Mr. Hansen's proposal meets that requirement, but we're asking our review panel to make sure."

Hansen had prepared a letter sharing his thoughts about his proposal to restore the NBA in Seattle.

"If successful, we believe our effort would represent one of the largest private investments ever made in a new arena in North America and would provide a significant source of job and economic growth for the region," Hansen wrote.

The Arena Advisory Panel mentioned by Constantine is tasked to review the "financing and other details of the proposal to ensure that the proposal is in the best interest of the public." The panel has been tasked to submit the findings to McGinn and Constantine by next month.

For two King County Council members, Joe McDermott and Reagan Dunn, the possibility of the NBA coming back to Seattle is one that stirs old memories of the heyday of the Supersonics.

"I will always remember the excitement and celebration that swept the city when the Sonics won the world championship in 1979," McDermott said. "I'm thrilled by the potential to bring more jobs, business and economic development to our region."

Dunn said he's interested to see the proposal and get the NBA back.

"As stewards of public money, we must closely examine any plan that seeks King County's role in financing such a project. I look forward to learning more about the proposal," he said. "As a die-hard Sonics fan, I long for the days of 'The Glove' Gary Payton and Seattle's 'Reign Man' Shawn Kemp. I sincerely hope Sonics basketball is in Seattle's future."


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