Times Watchdog: An investment company sent a letter to Mayor Ed Murray’s chief of staff expressing interest in paying for a KeyArena renovation, but the company hasn’t heard back.
A New Mexico-based real-estate investment company has expressed interest in overhauling KeyArena and funding the estimated $285 million cost so that it could host NHL and NBA teams.
In a July 20 letter, Seattle native Christopher Brozovich, vice president of M.T. Phoenix LLC, wrote to Seattle Mayor Ed Murray that his company had reviewed a new report on KeyArena’s viability and agreed it could be renovated at its existing size.
He’s still waiting for a response.
Seattle Center Coliseum / KeyArena timeline
1962: The Washington State Pavilion, designed by architect Paul Thiry, opens as part of the World’s Fair. Among its exhibits: The World of Tomorrow and the Bubbleator.
Post-fair: The city of Seattle buys the Pavilion, turning it into a convention and sports Coliseum. (The Bubbleator is moved to the Food Circus building, now called The Armory, where it stays until 1980.)
Oct. 20, 1967: Seattle SuperSonics play their first home game in front of 4,473 fans.
Jan. 15, 1974: Sonics host the NBA All-Star Game at the Coliseum.
Oct. 13, 1978: Sonics move from the Coliseum and begin the first of seven seasons at the Kingdome.
June 1, 1979: Sonics win the NBA title.
Jan. 5, 1986: The Sonics return to the Coliseum for the 1985-86 season, and host the first game rained out in NBA history, thanks to a leaky roof.
Feb. 8, 1987: Sonics host the NBA All-Star Game at the Kingdome.
February 1994: Sonics demand the Coliseum be renovated. In exchange for the city issuing 20-year bonds to pay for the $100 million renovation, the Sonics agree to a 15-year lease.
June 16, 1994: Construction begins to renovate the Coliseum. Sonics play at the Tacoma Dome during the 1994-95 season.
Nov. 4, 1995: Sonics play their first game at the newly christened KeyArena. NBA Commissioner David Stern attends and says KeyArena “is very special to me,” and that everyone in Seattle should be proud of the “beautiful building.”
July 18, 2006: Clay Bennett and a group of Oklahoma businessmen buy the Sonics and Storm for $350 million, pledging a “good-faith” effort to keep the team in Seattle.
Feb. 11, 2008: Bennett offers the city of Seattle $26.5 million if it lets the Sonics out of the final two years of their lease. The city declines.
April 13, 2008: The Sonics play what would prove to be their last game in Seattle, a 99-95 victory over Dallas.
April 18, 2008: NBA owners approve relocating the Sonics to Oklahoma City by a 28-2 vote, with only Dallas’ Mark Cuban and Portland’s Paul Allen voting against it.
“Our first stance, at a glance, is that we collectively would be very excited to be involved with the revitalization of the KeyArena to bring it back to its original glory,’’ Brozovich wrote in the letter, which was obtained by The Seattle Times via a public-records request.
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The letter marks the first indication of private enterprise being willing to fund the estimated $285 million cost of overhauling the city-owned venue. It could also ignite debate on whether the city should look at KeyArena instead of a new Sodo District arena proposed by entrepreneur Chris Hansen.
In an interview Wednesday, Brozovich said M.T. Phoenix is “still interested in the project’’ and would explore financing the entire $285 million, but city officials have yet to respond to his letter. He’d tried unsuccessfully to reach Chris Gregorich, who until recently had been the mayor’s chief of staff and lead representative on NHL issues.
“I didn’t chase it that far,’’ Brozovich said by telephone. “I’ve got so many other projects that we’re considering, I don’t have time to go after something that doesn’t seem like it’s really willing to move forward.’’
Brozovich, 58, a longtime Seattle resident who now lives near Sonoma, Calif., said he’d love to help refurbish the venue and was the one who first raised the issue with his partners.
He wonders why the city wouldn’t respond when his group has “the full amount” and is willing to spend it if it proves to be a wise investment.
Even before Brozovich sent his letter, the city was seeking legal advice on whether it could move beyond its Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Hansen and instead support groups interested in refurbishing KeyArena. The city’s finance director, Glen Lee, concluded in a July 17 email that helping a KeyArena group was likely not a “bad faith” violation.
At the time, the city also had Denver-based lawyers specializing in sports-venue financing looking into the matter, according to emails.
Murray’s spokesman, Viet Shelton, did not return phone calls asking about the Brozovich letter. The mayor’s office and city records department had delayed responding to public-records requests filed by The Seattle Times.
A spokesman for Hansen’s group also did not respond to a request for comment.
Before writing Murray, Brozovich, talked on the phone with City Councilmember Tim Burgess, discussing KeyArena ideas. Public records show Burgess suggested Brozovich forward Murray his ideas in writing.
“He expressed his frustration about the agreement that they’re locked into with Chris Hansen,’’ Brozovich said of Burgess.
Burgess said Wednesday that he didn’t know whether anyone followed up on Brozovich’s letter. He said others have expressed interest to the city about KeyArena.
Records show he forwarded Brozovich’s letter to Murray’s then-chief of staff Gregorich and other top officials July 21.
“They had some interesting ideas on what could happen with KeyArena,’’ Burgess said of M.T. Phoenix. “But I made it very clear to them that we have an existing agreement with Chris Hansen and that the city would not do anything to interfere with or undermine that agreement.’’
Murray has maintained for months that his administration supports the Sodo project. But the city’s renewed interest in KeyArena occurred soon after the late-June release of a report by architectural giant AECOM that concluded the venue could be made NHL and NBA compliant at its current size for $285 million.
Before the city-commissioned report, which took three years to produce, the arena was considered too small to handle either sport without being demolished and rebuilt.
City Council members were shown the report in July, but the findings weren’t publicized. The report was first uncovered by the media in September after public-records requests.
M.T. Phoenix was incorporated only nine months ago in Albuquerque, N.M., but Brozovich said most of its partners have done business together and in the industry for more than 20 years.
Partners work closely with major hedge funds that deal in “large, iconic trophy properties” including sports arenas, he said. Confidentiality agreements prevent him from disclosing client names, he added.
The company lists Terry McMains and Matt Donald, both of Albuquerque, as its CEO and president.
The MOU among Hansen, the city and King County would provide up to $200 million in bond funds for a Sodo Arena, but only if an NBA team returns here. The total cost for the Sodo project is about $490 million. The NBA has indicated no expansion or relocation is imminent.
The MOU has no “NHL-first” provision, and the city has indicated it might be unwilling to use public funds if only a hockey team comes here. Hansen has a nonbinding deal with Los Angeles real-estate magnate Victor Coleman to play in a Sodo arena if Coleman can land an NHL team.
Hansen and Coleman have yet to reach a financial arrangement with one another, causing frustration for Coleman, Murray’s office and the NHL. Murray in May warned he’d seek alternative arena sites if an “NHL-first” deal wasn’t struck in Sodo.
At the time, the KeyArena report hadn’t been released and there appeared to be no alternatives. Hansen told The Associated Press in late May he felt no added urgency to get an “NHL first” deal done and that Coleman needed to make him an offer.
Murray “re-evaluating our role”
Public records show that the day the AP story appeared, Murray’s representatives contacted the Coleman and Hansen camps seeking status reports.
When news surfaced in early June that the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes might relocate, Murray told his spokesman Shelton by email he’d decided not to comment to the media about Seattle being a potential landing spot. Murray also sent Shelton a short email: “I am re-evaluating our role in this issue.”
Soon after, the AECOM report on KeyArena was published, and the city began exploring legal options for moving beyond the MOU and Hansen.
Just days before the NHL’s deadline for expansion applications on July 20, public records show, Gregorich forwarded the KeyArena report to would-be NHL owner Coleman’s camp. That week, M.T. Phoenix Vice President Brozovich had his phone conversation with Seattle City Councilmember Burgess about repurposing KeyArena.
Burgess said Wednesday that next year’s potential decision on a light-rail line through Seattle Center could be a game-changer for KeyArena.
“If it’s approved by the voters, that will have a huge positive impact on Seattle Center and KeyArena,’’ Burgess said. “It’s not too soon to start planning and thinking and brainstorming about those possibilities.’’
Brozovich said M.T. Phoenix had been interested in renovating KeyArena even before the AECOM report. After seeing the report, his partners agreed with its conclusions that the venue could be overhauled, he said.
Brozovich said M.T. Phoenix doesn’t want to undermine Hansen’s work or any binding agreements with the city. He said his company even reached out to Hansen and offered to help complete the Sodo project, but got no reply.
Brozovich said his company remains interested in the KeyArena renovation. A hockey player in his youth, he’d love to walk to a game at a refurbished facility knowing he had a hand in it.
“I don’t need to have people patting me on the back,’’ Brozovich said. “If it happens, that’s cool. But it’s just to be able to know that I helped out my city.’’