NHL commissioner Gary Bettman listed Seattle, Las Vegas and Quebec City as three places from which he’s received the most expressed interest. The league will accept applications starting July 6 through Aug. 10, though Bettman doesn’t expect a new team until the 2017-18 season.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman turned up the pressure on local arena groups Wednesday by announcing the league will begin taking expansion-team applications in less than two weeks’ time.
That news, announced after a board of governors meeting in Las Vegas, puts pressure on competing arena groups in Seattle, Tukwila and possibly Bellevue to hasten securing the financing for their projects. In the case of a Sodo District arena pitched by entrepreneur Chris Hansen, he has less than six weeks to work out a financial deal with would-be NHL partner Victor Coleman to have any chance at landing a hockey team.
Bettman said the application process will begin July 6 and run through Aug. 10. Expansion teams would cost at least $500 million, and the earliest any would begin play is the 2017-18 season, which leaves groups here with time to resolve arena issues.
“The fact we are going through this process doesn’t mean we are going to expand,” Bettman said. “All it means is we’re going to stop just listening to expressions of interest and take a good, hard look at what they actually mean and represent.”
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He said Seattle, Las Vegas, Quebec City and the Toronto suburb of Markham have expressed the most interest, but Kansas City, Mo., Portland and Milwaukee also have checked in.
“I would say in Seattle’s case, the arena situation still seems to have some uncertainty,’’ Bettman told reporters. “But perhaps the process will bring some certainty to the arena situation. Nobody has the arena act together yet in Seattle.”
Local sources say Connecticut investment banker Ray Bartoszek, who is spearheading the Tukwila project, sent his hockey representative, Ben Bouma, to Las Vegas where the meetings and annual NHL awards are taking place. Bouma took a tour of the planned Las Vegas arena site with architects from Populous — the firm that designed the proposed Tukwila arena — and is believed to have met with NHL officials, though he did not attend the governors’ meeting.
Bartoszek could not be reached for comment, but his company, RLB Sports and Entertainment, issued a statement confirming it sent a representative to Las Vegas.
“Our group continues to make significant progress on the Northwest Arena at Southcenter,’’ the statement said. “We are pleased the National Hockey League has decided to take the next step in growing its great sport new markets. Should the opportunity present itself, we would welcome any dialogue with the NHL with regards to the expansion process.’’
The league would take any Seattle-area applications knowing that no group would have its arena plans approved until next year. But the NHL also would clearly expect any formal application to already have financial arrangements worked out.
Bartoszek is said by sources to have secured financing from Citibank for part of his arena, but partners Fred Brown and Jerry Lee continue to meet with potential investors locally to secure additional funds.
Hansen’s ability to fund an “NHL first” move to Sodo remains questionable after he said in interviews last month he’d yet to receive a reworked financing proposal from partner Coleman or anyone else. Coleman had previously given an interview to KING-TV stating his frustration with Hansen and their lack of progress toward an NHL-first deal.
Mayor Ed Murray has warned Hansen must put more private funds toward his planned arena if it’s only an NHL team there initially. An agreement between Hansen, the city and King County calls for up to $200 million in public bonds for an arena if an NBA team comes first.
But Murray said he cannot sell the city council on approving the arena for the NHL with the way that deal is currently structured.
Viet Shelton, a spokesman for Murray, said Wednesday the mayor has yet to receive a new proposal from Hansen. But Shelton added: “The NHL news today, I think, creates an opportunity for folks eager to bring an NHL team to Seattle to see what can be done on that (financial) front.’’
Sources also indicate that a separate investment group continues to eye the city of Bellevue to see whether an arena can be built in that locale. So far, the group has yet to announce public plans.
Longtime NHL and NBA “power broker” Jac Sperling had been trying to put a group together for a Bellevue bid, but there is no word on whether he managed to do so.