Sonics back in Seattle? City Council backs deal to construct $490 million arena

This is the proposed location Chris Hansen wants to construct a $490 million basketball/hockey arena in the Sodo district of Seattle.  - Courtesy photo
This is the proposed location Chris Hansen wants to construct a $490 million basketball/hockey arena in the Sodo district of Seattle.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Things took another huge step forward Tuesday in Seattle’s quest to get professional basketball back in the Puget Sound area.

The Seattle City Council reached a tentative agreement with investor Chris Hansen to build a $490 million state-of-the-art basketball and hockey arena in the Sodo stadium district in Seattle. The agreement calls for $200 million in public money.

Now, it looks like all Hansen has to do is find a National Basketball Association (NBA) franchise to bring to Seattle.

“Mr. Hansen now has the commitment from the city for him to go shopping,” said City Council President Sally Clark at a press conference Tuesday morning.

In a statement on his website, Hansen thanked and credited city council members — and fans. Hansen has already acquired land for an arena near CenturyLink Field and Safeco Field.

“Your voices were heard and your hearts spoke volumes,” Hansen said on his website. “I really hope you all just appreciate how much it meant and what a difference each and every one of you made.”

The City Council wanted Hansen to address concerns about traffic congestion raised by the Port of Seattle and businesses in the Sodo area. The agreement announced by council members Tuesday creates a $40 million transportation infrastructure fund.

“We set out to make sure the general fund is protected, freight mobility is helped and that we have help in charting the future of Key (Arena). We achieved these goals,” said Clark, who was joined at the news conference by councilmen Mike O’Brien and Frank Burgess and State Rep. Judy Clibborn.

The City Council Government Performance and Finance Committee will hold a hearing and vote on the revised agreement Thursday. The deal would then go to the full council, which is expected to pass it later this month. It would then go back to the Metropolitan King County Council, which already approved the earlier version in July.

“While it is too early to hoist a green and white flag on top of the Space Needle, these amendments represent a positive step forward in returning the NBA to our region,” said King County Councilman Pete von Reichbauer, who opposed the initial proposal. “This agreement is an important first step forward, but it is just one step in a long path of steps to bring the NBA back.”

The new deal makes changes in a memorandum of understanding to increase financial protections for taxpayers and improve freight mobility in the area, and will invest $7 million in Key Arena at the Seattle Center.

The changes require Hansen to personally cover bond payments if arena revenue falls short and audits will confirm he has a net worth of at least $300 million, O’Brien said Tuesday. Hansen also could be forced to buy the arena after 30 years for $200 million, which would protect the city from owning an obsolete arena.

“It’s not risk free, but it certainly is worth the benefit to make this a good deal going forward,” O’Brien said. “It’s one of the best arena deals we’ve seen in the country.”

Hansen, 44, was born and raised in Seattle and is now a very wealthy hedge fund manager in San Francisco. Over the past year, Hansen has spent more than $51 million buying properties just south of Safeco Field.

“This is a great day for Seattle,” Burgess said.

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