A wealthy San Francisco hedge fund manager is the lead investor seeking to build a sports arena south of Safeco Field to lure an NBA basketball team back to Seattle, according to two sources briefed on the effort.
A wealthy San Francisco hedge-fund manager is the lead investor seeking to build a sports arena south of Safeco Field to lure an NBA basketball team back to Seattle, according to two sources briefed on the effort.
Christopher Hansen, 43, who has roots in Seattle and now heads Valiant Capital Management LLC, in San Francisco, is working with an investor group whose proposal has yet to be publicly unveiled.
Hansen, described by one source as a multimillionaire, could not be reached for comment Friday. He previously lived in Seattle’s Leschi neighborhood, public records show.
Hansen is working with a Bellevue man who would like to bring an NHL professional hockey team to Seattle to play in the arena, according to the source, who did not know the name of the Eastside participant.
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Both men understand they need each other to make the proposal work, the source said.
Little has been written about Hansen or his company, according to a search of public records and the Internet. Valiant reported that its holdings of U.S. stocks were worth $779 million as of Sept. 30. Hedge funds can make a wide range of other investments whose value the funds aren’t required to disclose.
Mayor Mike McGinn’s office confirmed Dec. 9 that it was examining an “opportunity” to bring an NBA franchise to Seattle, but declined to provide specific information. Ethan Raup, McGinn’s director of policy and operations, declined to comment Friday.
The Sodo proposal represents the most serious effort to resurrect NBA basketball in Seattle since the Sonics left in 2008 for Oklahoma City.
Hansen apparently is focusing on land in the Sodo District, just south of Safeco Field’s parking garage, between South Massachusetts and South Holgate streets east of First Avenue South, as a possible arena site.
A limited liability corporation (LLC) he heads recently purchased one large property in the area, and a broker associated in public records with that corporation reportedly has reached out to nearby owners.
For an arena to be built there, the city most likely would have to vacate a stretch of Occidental Avenue South, which bisects the potential site.
WSA LLC, an entity affiliated with Hansen and Valiant, paid $21.6 million for a warehouse on three acres on the east side of Occidental between Massachusetts and Holgate in early December, according to public records.
The seller, Thomas Herche, did not return a call.
One public record concerning the transaction gives an Issaquah address for WSA that is the office of Vipond Group, described on its website as a company specializing in marketing, selling and auctioning commercial real estate.
William Vipond, the firm’s founder and president, reportedly has contacted property owners on the other side of Occidental offering to buy.
Vipond did not return several calls.
There are four owners on the west side of Occidental between Holgate and Massachusetts. An entity affiliated with Henry Liebman’s American Life, Sodo’s largest property owner, owns slightly more than an acre with several buildings at the south end of the block.
Liebman couldn’t be reached Friday.
Lyle Snyder of Mercer Island, who owns a half-acre at the north end of the block that now is the site of the Showbox SoDo, declined to comment.
David Efron of Scottsdale, Ariz., whose family owns a warehouse on about 0.6 acres south of Snyder’s property, would not say whether he has been contacted by Vipond, WSA, Valiant or anyone wanting to build a sports arena.
But he said in an email that, when approached by other prospective buyers over the years, “our family partnership has not been particularly desirous of selling the legacy entrusted to us by our grandparents.”
The owners of the fourth property, about 0.2 acres, could not be reached for comment.
At least one business owner has declined to sell, according to sources, who didn’t identify the owner.
The mayor’s role
McGinn, an avid basketball fan, has been working with the Sodo investor group for several months to explore how the city can assist, including help with financing, according to sources. As part of the effort, McGinn hired an arena consultant, sources said.
In 2006, Seattle voters overwhelmingly approved an initiative that says the city must make a profit on any investment it makes in a sports arena.
A new arena has been considered essential to acquiring an NBA team. If an arena site was found and financing for the project obtained, investors would have to work with the NBA to attract a new franchise or buy an existing team, such as financially struggling teams in Sacramento or New Orleans.
The group behind the Sodo effort is separate from a recently publicized campaign being led by longtime Sonics fan Brian Robinson and his organization, Arena Solution, supporting all reasonable efforts to secure a new arena and an NBA team.
Among those involved in the Sodo plan is Wally Walker, the former Seattle Sonics player and team executive, sources said. Walker was a minority owner of the Sonics, serving as the team’s president and general manager from 1994 until the team was sold to Clay Bennett in 2006.
Bennett moved the team to Oklahoma City after failing to secure a new arena in Seattle and reaching a financial settlement with the city of Seattle. Bennett said KeyArena, where the Sonics played, lacked the amenities required to support an NBA franchise.
The hockey factor
If built, the arena would add a third professional sports facility in the Sodo area, joining Safeco, home of the Seattle Mariners, and CenturyLink Field, home of the Seattle Seahawks and Seattle Sounders FC.
Many think a new arena would have to offer both professional basketball and hockey to be a viable business proposition.
Seattle has never had an NHL team, though in 1990 a group led by then-Sonics owner Barry Ackerley, who died this year, sought to acquire an expansion franchise, but withdrew its bid.
KeyArena was not designed to meet NHL specifications when it was renovated in the mid-1990s.
Seattle Times news researchers Miyoko Wolf and David Turim, and staff reporter Lynn Thompson contributed to this story, which includes information from The Seattle Times archives.
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