Kudos to Oak View Group for a strong plan to rebuild KeyArena. Now it’s on City Hall to negotiate a good deal.
TIM Leiweke, the chief salesman for Seattle’s favored bid to rebuild KeyArena, is an irrepressible personality backed by moguls from the entertainment and music world. At Wednesday’s news conference announcing that Leiweke’s Oak View Group won the bid, a row of sleek black SUVs waited to take the winners to the El Gaucho steakhouse.
The big money behind pledges for a privately financed renovation of the Key, and Leiweke’s boardroom contacts at the NHL and NBA, offer Seattle a great shot to bring back the Sonics.
“This is the most important project our company will ever do,” Leiweke said at the news conference with Seattle Mayor Ed Murray. “This is the most important project I’ll ever do.”
That’s great. Seattle now needs Leiweke and his group — quoting the great sports marketing film “Jerry Maguire” — to show us the money.
City Hall must drive a hard bargain before signing a final contract with Oak View Group. Oak View will need to do better than a $1 million-a-year ground lease for the city-owned arena, especially when it is transformed from midlevel concert venue and home to the Seattle Storm to the home, also, of the NHL, potentially the NBA and bigger-name concerts.
The plan includes a usual-suspects list of taxes that would be generated by the arena’s activities that would go to pay for the project. The city needs to acknowledge those are in fact tax dollars being diverted.
City Hall also must drive a harder bargain on Oak View Group’s weak transportation mitigation plan in the already gridlocked Elliott-Bay-to-South-Lake Union corridor. The Monorail was the solution in 1962. It is not today. Transit should be part of the plan, but Seattle must acknowledge that a vast majority of NBA and NHL fans live outside the city and will be driving.
Murray pledged the city will “get a better deal” than the current proposal. “If we can’t solve the issues of transportation and financing, yes, that becomes a deal killer,” Murray said.
But Murray is out of office at the end of the year, so the City Council needs to be involved. Retiring Councilmember Tim Burgess, with no future campaign on the horizon, should lead council negotiations with the big-money group.
Oak View Group won because of a better plan and better partnership network, contrary to the sour grapes of the losing bidder. If anyone can bring the Sonics back soon, it’s this group.
That includes Chris Hansen’s group. Seattle City Council last year effectively took the ball from Hansen when it denied a street vacation necessary for his Sodo arena. Hansen himself deflated his chances by souring relations with the NBA, and still shows no progress toward landing an NBA team by a long-agreed-upon deadline of December 2017.
The ball is now clearly in Seattle leaders’ hands. If Murray and the council can be tough negotiators, the city and NHL and NBA fans will win.