In his first public appearance Wednesday night, hedge-fund manager Chris Hansen fielded questions from a citizen panel about his proposal to build a $490 million sports venue near Safeco Field.
Chris Hansen, the wealthy hedge-fund manager who wants to build a $490-million sports arena south of Safeco Field, seemed to charm a citizen review panel in Seattle Wednesday night, revealing that “healthy local ownership” would invest in the construction of the facility and the acquisition of an NBA team.
But the San Francisco-based Hansen declined to identify the other investors, telling the committee he would do that only when a franchise is acquired.
“It’s not my place to put other people’s names out there,” he said, although he did disclose that the investor group also would include people from his business network.
Making his first public appearance since his public-private partnership plan was unveiled Feb. 16, Hansen spoke in soft tones for about 45 minutes at City Hall.
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For most of the time, he answered questions from the panel charged with reviewing financing for the proposed arena and Hansen’s goals of bringing back the NBA and launching the city’s first NHL team.
“This is something I dreamed of as a little kid, … ” Hansen said of his desire to own an NBA team.
Hansen, a Roosevelt High School graduate with deep roots in Seattle, outlined his plan for private investors to pay $290 million for construction of a state-of-the-art sports and entertainment venue with approximately 18,000 seats. The public contribution would be capped at $200 million and would be repaid through city and King County taxes, as well as rent generated by the arena.
“We think it’s fair,” Hansen said at the outset of his remarks, which came after he first mingled with smiling members of the panel and greeted grateful basketball fans dressed in the green and gold of the Seattle SuperSonics. The Sonics departed to Oklahoma City in 2008.
Investors would guarantee a return on the city’s financial contribution, create a reserve fund equal to three times the city’s annual arena debt payments; enter a 30-year, non-relocation agreement for both teams; pay any construction-cost overruns; and pay the operating costs and upkeep of the arena.
The review panel, which is to issue a report to the city and county officials, was asked to ensure that the proposal protects the city from financial risk and complies with city Initiative 91, which required the city to make a profit from any public financing of a sports facility.
The panel has been given a short timeline, by mid-March, when the City Council and Metropolitan King County Council may be asked to approve a framework for the deal.
Asked about security to back his plan, Hansen indicated that a certain degree of public trust would be required, including faith in a quality ownership group. He said investors would not “blow up” their equity — hundreds of millions put into the facility and teams — by failing, for example, to pay $2 million in annual rent on the facility.
Hansen said that projected revenue figures for the arena were based on conservative estimates. Financial sheets released by the city on Wednesday showed an average ticket price of $55, and a first-year revenue figure of $324 million generated for NBA and NHL teams.
Hansen noted that the structure of NBA ownership has changed, with television deals bringing in more than ticket revenues, and that the league’s new collective-bargaining agreement has reduced labor costs.
As to his choice of location, just south of the Safeco Field garage, Hansen called it the best location for traffic access with minimal disruption to the surrounding area.
But he offered no solutions to issues such as the impact of an arena on traffic and on industrial and maritime interests in the area. He said he did not have all the answers and would listen to others with suggestions for addressing potential problems.
One key element of the plan is that Hansen attract an NBA team and arrange the acquisition of an NHL club.
That goal took a blow this week when the Sacramento City Council approved a plan to build a new arena for the Kings NBA franchise, which had been considered vulnerable to a move. The financially troubled Phoenix Coyotes NHL team also might find a new owner who would not relocate the team.
Speaking to reporters after his appearance Wednesday night, Hansen said he was willing to wait for opportunities to acquire teams.
“I’m willing to be very patient, as measured in years,” he said.
Hansen has said he needs an official commitment from the city and county to negotiate with the NBA for a new professional basketball team. He has said another ownership group will secure an NHL team, but that both will finance and build the arena.
City and county leaders have said no public money will be committed to the arena project until NBA and NHL teams have been secured for Seattle.
The next review-panel meeting is scheduled for next Monday at King County’s Chinook Building, 401 Fifth Avenue (5th and Jefferson), Rooms 121/123, from 5 p.m. to 7:30 pm. The public is welcome. Another meeting previously scheduled for Thursday has been moved to a later date.
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org