For most of the past year, investor groups interested in alternatives to the Sodo arena proposed by Chris Hansen have quietly held discussions with landowners of two prime sites in Tukwila and Bellevue. And they have their sights set on the NHL.
For most of the past year, investor groups interested in alternatives to the Sodo arena proposed by Chris Hansen have quietly held discussions with landowners of two prime sites in Tukwila and Bellevue.
The groups want to bring both the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League to the Seattle area, though they realize hockey is now the near-term possibility. They’ve deliberately left the limelight to Hansen while they talk with landowners, politicians and potential investors to gauge the viability of building in either location.
The Tukwila site, just south of Boeing Field, is owned by Seattle real-estate magnate and onetime Sonics minority owner David Sabey.
And the owners of the Bellevue land agreed more than two years ago to sell it to a developer that still hopes to attract investors to build an arena there for an NHL or NBA team.
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Both locations have been considered as arena sites in the past, boasting immediate highway access — Interstate 5 in Tukwila and Highway 405 in Bellevue — and proximity to light rail. But discussions surrounding the sites have stepped up in recent months given delays in Hansen’s project, which is now unlikely to gain approval before 2016.
Multiple sources with direct knowledge of the talks say there are at least two investor groups led by prominent figures with ties to professional sports teams. Any of those groups would have to provide the funding or bring in additional investors to get an arena built.
Mason Cave, a founding partner of IntraVest Development of Arizona, which has a deal to buy the Bellevue land, said his company has been approached in the past year by multiple investor groups interested in the site.
IntraVest has been working with Bellevue officials to rezone the land, which now houses a car dealership.
“What we’ve told the city is that if the right opportunity comes along and it’s well funded, then we would listen to that opportunity,’’ Cave said.
Sabey and his representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment on their land, which straddles the Tukwila-Seattle border and is the main distribution center for Unified Grocers.
Multiple sources with direct knowledge of the talks said that both locales are gaining traction as Sodo alternatives. None of the talks are said to involve Hansen or Los Angeles real-estate developer Victor Coleman, who has said he wants to bring an NHL expansion franchise to Sodo.
City of Seattle officials recently announced that a final environmental-impact statement (EIS) on Hansen’s proposed arena would be delayed until mid-May, followed by additional steps expected to push the approval process into next year.
Hansen is also hampered by an agreement with the city and King County that requires him to land an NBA team before getting up to $200 million in bond funding for an arena. Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said two weeks ago that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told him the league was potentially several years away from coming here.
Silver has said repeatedly the NBA has no immediate expansion plans. Last week, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker proposed contributing $220 million in state bond funds toward a new Milwaukee Bucks arena, largely eliminating the possibility of that franchise relocating here as had been rumored.
And Wednesday, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman confirmed for the first time he has talked to groups that have explored sites other than Sodo. Bettman told Vancouver, B.C., radio station TSN 1040 AM there are “a few people” interested in owning a Seattle franchise and that the league had been approached about “a building in Bellevue” and also about Tukwila.
Bettman said he’d never heard of Tukwila until recently, other than it having “the largest shopping mall in the Pacific Northwest.’’
For now, it appears the NHL would be the first to play at one of the two sites, given Bettman’s oft-stated interest in this market. That would require finding somebody to build the $500 million arena and pay an NHL expansion fee of up to $500 million more.
The Tukwila site appears to offer advantages over Bellevue, primarily because of the landownership setup.
In Bellevue, IntraVest has spent nearly two years working with city planners and neighboring landowners to get that 4.4-acre property rezoned for multiple uses.
The land was bought by two Mercer Island speculators, Doug Rosen and Paul Etsekson, for $8.4 million in August 2012 through a company called Dog Walk LLC. Shortly after that, IntraVest struck a deal with Dog Walk to eventually buy the property for several times its current value once the land is rezoned.
Cave and IntraVest’s managing partner, Thomas Roskos, have since made frequent trips to Bellevue, where their company leases a condo at The Bravern.
They’d initially hoped to build an arena in the event the Phoenix Coyotes NHL team moved here.
When that possibility fell through, they revised their plans and now have a multiuse retail, office and residential project titled “Bellevue Park” planned. But Cave said that project is up to two years away from breaking ground, leaving time for groups to come forward with an arena plan instead.
One caveat: Any builder would also have to buy two city-owned parcels just north of the IntraVest site and consolidate the properties into one 10-acre site big enough for an arena, parking and other amenities.
“The city has indicated they’re not necessarily hanging on to that for the long term,’’ Cave said of the two city properties. “They could potentially spin that land off.’’
Cave has had discussions with at least two potential NHL ownership groups looking at his site in recent months. Talks remain ongoing with one of the groups.
But the initial steps needed to assemble the Bellevue land are a big reason why multiple groups are also now looking at the already consolidated 55 acres of Sabey-owned Tukwila land just south of Boeing Field.
Sabey, 68, bought the site, containing more than two dozen parcels, from Associated Grocers in 2007 for $91 million.
Associated Grocers, which was bought by Unified Grocers and now uses that name, has been leasing the site from Sabey ever since.
In 2010, Sabey Corp. successfully petitioned Tukwila to rezone the land from manufacturing to light commercial use for future retail projects.
Sabey was a former member of the Sonics ownership group run by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. That group sold the team for $350 million in 2006 to Clay Bennett, who moved the franchise to Oklahoma, infuriating Seattle-area NBA fans.
Before the team moved, Bennett told reporters Sabey had met with him to discuss building an arena on the Tukwila land and keeping the team in the Seattle area. But Bennett said talks never progressed.
The Tukwila land has a size advantage over Bellevue, leaving room for construction of hotels, restaurants and other amenities.
In Bellevue, an arena would be close to existing hotels and restaurants downtown, plus numerous upcoming projects.
But the site, which is in the Wilburton district, would first need to be linked to downtown Bellevue by a proposed pedestrian overpass crossing Highway 405 at Northeast Sixth Street.
A light-rail stop linking the downtowns of Bellevue and Seattle has been proposed within steps of where the pedestrian bridge would be built.
Cave pointed out another, bigger hurdle: linking the IntraVest land with the city-owned parcels — one an office complex, the other a Jeep dealership parking lot. Cave said somebody else would have to buy those because IntraVest is stretched as far as it wants to go.
“Our site would definitely work,’’ he said. “We just need somebody to make it happen.’’
Bellevue City Councilmember Conrad Lee said linking the three land parcels for an arena is something the city remains open to.
“We will be looking at plans for this area, for this location, in the coming year,’’ he said.
Lee said that with Hansen’s project faltering, it’s imperative his city move “sooner rather than later” on its vision for the land. He says an arena would be “a big deal” for Bellevue but would likely need to be privately funded.
“If it’s a private deal, we are willing to help facilitate it,’’ he said. “If it’s not a private deal, then we’d have to negotiate.’’