A new development group interested in remaking KeyArena into a new pro-sports arena and a better offer from developer Chris Hansen on his proposed Sodo arena give the city more options and a better chance of bringing the Sonics back.
LAST week was a game changer for Seattle sports fans as investors started to compete to bring an NBA or an NHL team — or both — back to Seattle.
The challenge for Mayor Ed Murray, the City Council and other local officials is to make the best deal with the least harm, especially for the maritime and manufacturing industries threatened by the prospect of a third sports complex shoehorned into the Sodo neighborhood.
Early last week, developer Chris Hansen and his group offered a new approach to his agreement with the city for a publicly financed stadium. Rather than asking for $200 million in public-bond financing, Hansen and his group now would build the arena with private funds — but still with a few requested tax breaks.
Thursday, an impressive group with ties to both the NBA and NHL, and with venue-development expertise, confirmed to Seattle Times reporter Geoff Baker its interest in renovating Seattle Center’s KeyArena, the home of the Seattle Storm and erstwhile home of the Sonics. Among the principals is Tim Leiweke, CEO of the Oak View Group and former president and CEO of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, which owns Toronto’s NHL and NBA teams.
The city now has competing suitors, and that’s a good thing. Mayor Murray has a chance to view, with fresh eyes, the Hansen deal he inherited from his predecessor. He can weigh other options for the best venue for an NHL franchise and for the Sonics’ return.
But he and other officials will have to sort through many questions.
• Can the KeyArena proposal advance? Thursday, Murray announced the city would issue a request for proposals for the 54-year-old arena in January. A city-commissioned report earlier this year found that the city-owned KeyArena could be retrofitted for NBA and NHL teams for an estimated $285 million. That helped pique Oak View Group’s interest.
Bringing the Sonics back to town — and adding an NHL franchise — are great civic goals. But last week’s news showed that city leaders have options and can demand a better deal.”
The KeyArena site has issues, including traffic congestion. But competition for a new NBA and NHL arena is great news for taxpayers, especially because Hansen’s group has shown no progress toward landing a franchise.
• What is freight mobility worth? Can Hansen’s revised proposal leave the city with enough money to mitigate serious congestion problems in the city’s vital breadbasket of blue-collar jobs? Or does it still ask the public and Port of Seattle to make the same bad trade off as the old plan: the potential loss of high-paying maritime and manufacturing jobs for low-paying service jobs at a would-be Sodo arena and nightlife development.
Earlier this year, a five-member majority of the City Council stood up for the these industries by rejecting the Hansen group’s request to vacate one block of Sodo’s Occidental Avenue.
Hansen’s new offer includes a $18 million to $20 million contribution to the Lander Street overpass — a long-promised bypass over the Sodo rail route. But this is essentially money Hansen previously pledged in exchange for the vacation of Occidental Avenue. It is not a new contribution.
The Port of Seattle contends that the Lander overpass alone would not ease its concerns about worsening freight traffic. Seattle’s environmental-impact statement on Hansen’s proposed site estimates it would host up to 186 events a year. By some estimates, that means 1 million more vehicle trips a year.
The city has since created a new freight-mobility plan. What would a Lander Street overpass, plus enhancements from that plan, do to ensure a Sodo arena does not gridlock Seattle’s deep-water port?
Bringing the Sonics back to town — and adding an NHL franchise — are great civic goals. But last week’s news showed that city leaders have options and can demand a better deal.
Bring on the competition.