The NHL commissioner said the lack of an arena in Seattle and stumbling blocks in getting hockey there have discouraged would-be owners from vying for a team. He said the league could revisit the situation if it changes.
NEW YORK — Commissioner Gary Bettman said Friday the NHL no longer is focused on Seattle even though the league still is waiting to announce expansion to Las Vegas or Quebec City.
Bettman said the lack of an arena in Seattle and stumbling blocks in getting hockey there have discouraged would-be owners from vying for a team. He said the league could revisit the situation if it changes.
“If and when Seattle has something to tell us, we’ll take note of it,’’ Bettman told The Seattle Times while attending The Associated Press Sports Editors commissioners meetings in Manhattan. “I don’t know that we’ll do anything more than that at the time. So I’m not making any promises.
“But it’s clear, at least to this point, that there appears to be no arena process. And I think that has discouraged lots of interest. And I’m not opining as to whether or not it’s anybody’s fault or responsibility. It is what it is. And so we have other things to focus on.’’
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Bettman visited Seattle two years ago to meet with Mayor Ed Murray and others, including Los Angeles real-estate mogul Victor Coleman, to try to resolve the arena impasse. Coleman attempted to partner with Sodo District arena proponent Chris Hansen to bring an NHL team to Seattle, but the pair failed to work out a financial arrangement.
Part of the issue is a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Hansen, the city and King County that provides up to $200 million in public bond funding for an arena if an NBA team is acquired. But there is no public funding if an NHL team comes first — largely because city officials feared there wasn’t enough financial upside for hockey.
That means Coleman and Hansen would require a mostly or entirely private venture to bring the NHL to town without an NBA team. But the NBA isn’t relocating teams, and commissioner Adam Silver reiterated to The Times on Thursday that any talk of expansion would not occur until after a new collective-bargaining agreement is finalized this year or next.
Silver has maintained that position the past two years. On Thursday, he also dismissed the contention of some Hansen supporters that having a “shovel ready” arena plan could hasten the NBA’s expansion plans.
Hansen faces a November 2017 deadline to land an NBA squad before the MOU expires.
On May 2, the Seattle City Council will vote on whether to give up part of Occidental Avenue South to Hansen for his arena. Giving up the street enables Hansen to complete needed permitting and make the arena “shovel ready,” though some council members question the need to do that because he lacks an NBA team.
Hansen has argued via his website, SonicsArena.com, that being “shovel ready” enables his group to respond quickly to NBA opportunities — expansion or relocation — that arise. But opponents — including the Port of Seattle and maritime unions — say the city has yet to officially decide if Sodo is the best arena location and that giving up the street prematurely designates it as the preferred site.
One issue the council is grappling with is that Hansen would acquire rights to build on Occidental for five years — well beyond the MOU funding deadline of November 2017. Council president Bruce Harrell, at a city transportation committee meeting this week, suggested shortening the five-year Occidental deadline to match the MOU time frame.
“It seems to me that accomplishes putting pressure on the investment group to work diligently in good faith to make this happen,’’ Harrell said.
At the same meeting, council member Sally Bagshaw questioned why — with no NBA team imminent — the city is even voting on giving up Occidental.
Bagshaw suggested exploring a report last summer by the AECOM global architectural firm that KeyArena could be renovated for NBA and NHL for $285 million. Public records show that last August, with his Hansen talks at a standstill, potential hockey owner Coleman told the city he wanted to further pursue the KeyArena remodel option.
But the city later said its deal with Hansen prevents it from entertaining such offers.
Silver said his league would be open to hearing about a KeyArena remodel, and Bettman said Friday the NHL isn’t homed-in on any particular Seattle location.
“As it relates to Seattle, nothing has been ruled in or out because we’re not really focused on it,’’ he said. “When we were up there two years ago, we were responding to expressions of interest that, as it related to the (Sodo) arena site, never materialized. And so I don’t know the answer to the (KeyArena) question. I have no reason, as we sit here today, to need to know the answer to the question.’’
Bettman said the NHL isn’t holding up expansion to wait for Seattle to get arena approval.
“Even if you told me it was under construction tomorrow, it wouldn’t impact this process,’’ he said.
Up to three Seattle groups — including Coleman’s — were expected to apply for NHL expansion last July, but none did. Bettman said the league felt all along it would be only Las Vegas and Quebec City to apply “based on who we thought was real.’’
Bettman said the league continues to review the applications but added there’s no rush. He wouldn’t say how much the fluctuating Canadian dollar — which fell to 68 cents U.S. in February but was near 79 cents this week — is impacting Quebec City’s chances.
“There are all sorts of factors that are being considered,’’ he said. “The Canadian dollar is obviously one that we’re aware of. It’s impact has yet to be determined.’’