The Connecticut businessman who tried to bring the Phoenix Coyotes to Seattle is partnering with NBA legend Bill Russell and former Sonics star Fred Brown.
Connecticut-based businessman Ray Bartoszek attempted once before to bring the NHL to this region, and now he is trying again.
Bartoszek, 50, confirmed Monday he is proposing to build a multi-purpose sports arena in Tukwila, on land situated just off Interstate 405 and within walking distance of an existing Sounder train station. He is partnering on the project with NBA legend Bill Russell, former Sonics star Fred Brown, and Jerry Lee, CEO of the Bellevue architectural firm MulvannyG2.
The venture, which is privately funded, on just less than five acres of land would clearly be done with an eye toward the region being granted an NHL expansion franchise, though Bartoszek on Monday cautioned that his only goal for now is getting arena approval.
“It’s far too early for any discussion about sports,’’ Bartoszek said. “It’s a very early stage of a potential real-estate project.’’
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Nevertheless, Bartoszek’s aspirations as an NHL owner are hardly a secret. He tried unsuccessfully to buy and relocate the Phoenix Coyotes to Seattle in July 2013 and has lobbied the NHL for a Seattle expansion franchise ever since.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told The Seattle Times last week that expansion to the Northwest won’t be considered until a prospective owner gets an arena approved and financing lined up. By choosing Tukwila as his arena site, Bartoszek appears to be trying to fast-track approval so he can vault ahead of another project proposed for Seattle’s Sodo District by entrepreneur Chris Hansen.
Also, the presence of partners Brown and Russell in the Bartoszek group suggests a future NBA bid would be in the works once that league is prepared to expand. NBA commissioner Adam Silver said last week it would be at least two or three more years before expansion is considered.
A final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on Hansen’s plan is to be released by the city of Seattle on May 7. But political, bureaucratic and financing hurdles remain, and the earliest Hansen is expected to receive a master-use permit for construction would be the first half of next year.
A source with knowledge of Tukwila City Hall said it’s possible a full State Environmental Protection Act (SEPA) review of Bartoszek’s proposal could be completed and a permit issued by year’s end. If that happens, the arena could open by late 2017.
“Unlike some councils in the area, Tukwila has a very harmonious group,’’ the source said. “There aren’t too many disagreements on anything amongst the councilors, and it leads to things getting done very quickly.’’
Land-registry documents for Tukwila show a 4.66-acre parcel was sold to a Minnesota-registered company called Leuqar BB LLC last August for $2.5 million. Leuqar is believed to be controlled by Bartoszek’s group. The land sale was approved in a 7-0 vote by Tukwila’s council in October.
The land in question is far smaller than the 66-acre property owned by real-estate developer David Sabey, which is near Boeing Field and previously looked at as a potential arena site by groups since 2007.
That size limitation means the arena pitched by Bartoszek’s group would likely be constructed ahead of any surrounding entertainment district. Bartoszek would have to build from there to accommodate the broader vision outlined in a letter he sent Tukwila officials last week.
It remains to be seen whether Bartoszek’s group would be able to make an NHL bid, or be forced to take on additional partners. A typical arena costs about $500 million, and sources have said the NHL is seeking $500 million in expansion fees as well.
Bartoszek already owns a small part of the New York Yankees, and his net worth isn’t known. He does not appear on the annual Forbes list of U.S. billionaires.
For now, speed appears to be Bartoszek’s greatest asset, since fast-tracking his project could vault him ahead of Hansen. Bartoszek is expected to submit a request for a SEPA review of his group’s project by Friday.
Last week, Bartoszek’s company, RLB Holdings, sent a letter to Tukwila’s planning and development office outlining the scope of his arena plans.
“The project concept is for a multi-purpose arena facility … designed to host possible future sporting events, regional corporate events and conventions/trade shows,” it stated.
The letter asks for an interpretation on zoning regulations in the area where the land is located — known as the Transit Oriented Development (TOD) district – and whether the arena proposal fits.
Tukwila Mayor Jim Haggerton declined an interview request, but a statement issued Monday by Tukwila City Hall said the request by Bartoszek is being studied.
The city’s statement indicated Tukwila was first approached by arena developers in January 2014. “It has been our understanding that Tukwila has been one of multiple sites in the region investigated for this purpose,” said the statement.
Brown had been discussing his own potential arena deal with Tukwila since early last year. At the time, Bartoszek was surveying alternative arena locations, considering and then dismissing Seattle Center, before teaming up with Brown toward the latter part of 2014.
One of the Tukwila councilors who approved the sale of land proposed for the arena deal, Allan Ekberg, issued a statement Monday that the arena would benefit from the confluence of major freeways and proximity to SeaTac International Airport. Ekberg added the arena would “put Tukwila on the map as an attractive place to live, work and play.’’
King County council member Pete von Reichbauer also issued a statement, saying, “Ray Bartoszek not only brings his ideas to the table, he brings his own wallet.”
NHL commissioner Bettman, who has met numerous times with Bartoszek the past two years, said last week that Seattle will not be considered for expansion until full arena approval is granted.
“You’ve got your approvals, you’ve got your financing — you’re ready to go,’’ Bettman said of his expectations. “You’re basically saying ‘Listen, if we get a team, we’re committed to and are ready to break ground because this building can be a reality.’ ’’
The Times first reported in February that Bartoszek was looking at Tukwila. It also reported that Jac Sperling was trying to put a separate group together and had considered both Tukwila and Bellevue. Sperling is a longtime associate of former Seahawks president Tod Leiweke. Leiweke has denied any involvement in Sperling’s group.