Few details revealed about progress of Sodo arena or refurbishing KeyArena and the Tukwila project could need a renewed commitment from its main backer, Ray Bartoszek. Meanwhile, the Bellevue project is dead.
Inside sports business
The puck dropped last week on another season for the National Hockey League, with no immediate prospects of it coming to this region.
Around here, we specialize in dropping the ball, not the puck. At least, that’s how it appeared when arena groups in Sodo District, Tukwila and Bellevue failed to apply for NHL expansion by a July 20 deadline.
Lead investors pulled out in Tukwila and Bellevue while Victor Coleman, potential NHL owner and partner for Sodo arena builder Chris Hansen, balked at applying.
So, where are we?
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Well, months of public records requests and interviews show that while the Sodo and Tukwila projects continue, Ray Bartoszek could soon be out as the Tukwila venture’s head honcho.
The Bellevue project, arguably the grandest, is dead with no revival plans. It turns out, that project required a $200-million commitment from Bellevue and city officials were debating whether they could accommodate it.
Here in Seattle, the Sodo project breezed through local design hearings in September. The real test will be a Seattle City Council vote — likely early next year — on removing a street to accommodate the arena.
Public records show Chris Gregorich, until recently chief of staff to Mayor Ed Murray, dialogued regularly with Coleman’s group ahead of the NHL’s deadline.
A week before it became public knowledge Coleman would not apply for expansion, his representative, sports consultant Jeff Marks of Premier Partnerships, requested a July 9 conference call with Gregorich and city officials. Marks emailed Gregorich that the call would “discuss next steps and bring you up to speed on the NHL expansion application process and timing and what our team is thinking around the process.’’
Marks said in an interview Coleman told the city during the call he wouldn’t be applying for a team since he couldn’t control whether Hansen gets his arena approved.
The following Tuesday, Gregorich forwarded Marks a new report from late-June on KeyArena: stating the venue required less space than previously thought for NHL and NBA and could be repurposed for only $285 million.
You’d think that would be huge news, given the city already owns KeyArena and new venues typically cost $500 million. But for some reason, the city kept quiet about those findings for three months.
Media members only discovered the report last month via public records requests. Coleman last spring mused about seeking alternative sites if he couldn’t reach a deal with Hansen. But Marks says Coleman remains committed to Sodo and isn’t seeking alternatives.
Marks did say financial negotiations between Coleman and Hansen remain unresolved. But he says Hansen has an optimal location, is nearing approval and would be an ideal partner.
Additional public records have been requested by The Seattle Times since July pertaining to Gregorich, Murray, Coleman and their NHL plans. But the city has delayed completing the request several times and says further documents may not come before Oct. 31.
That’s only a few days before Nov. 3 elections for Seattle City Council. With the arena a controversial topic, talk about alternative sites could negatively impact candidates supporting the city’s positive position on the Sodo location.
Murray’s office won’t comment, so until more documents are released, that’s what we have.
Hansen spokesman Rollin Fatland, asked about the report and whether Hansen and Coleman are still partnering, replied: “Chris Hansen has had discussions with Mr. Coleman and others but has never ‘partnered’ with anyone yet.’’
In Tukwila, Bartoszek’s camp says his lead investor bailed around July 3.
Public records show that by July 9, Bartoszek had imported former NBA general manager David Kahn to review his project. Kahn teaches sports business at New York University and worked at the same law firm as NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.
A source close to the project says Kahn continues as an unpaid consultant.
Records show Bartoszek’s group has met with Boeing representatives about arena-related ventures, like using their neighboring land for additional parking space.
Tukwila officials were caught off guard when Bartoszek didn’t apply for a team. Records show Mayor Jim Haggerton and top city planners kept asking through the July 20 deadline whether Bartoszek needed a letter of support for his application.
Tukwila spokeswoman Rachel Bianchi says the city merely assumed Bartoszek was applying and nobody thought to confirm it.
By mid-July, Bartoszek agreed to pay up to $350,000 to the city for consulting fees, in $50,000 installments, as bills came due for environmental impact studies of the project. But projected expenses are now pushing those limits, meaning a renewed commitment from Bartoszek could be needed. I’m told we’ll know by month’s end whether he’ll continue on, depending on his landing new investor money.
If Bartoszek pulls out, Tukwila’s project could go the way of Bellevue’s.
Public records from Bellevue show a major sports and entertainment project in Wilburton District was pushed by landowner IntraVest Development of Arizona and longtime NHL deal-broker Jac Sperling.
But they wanted a $200-million commitment up-front from the city. Bellevue officials had discussed tax options and paying for infrastructure like a parking garage to satisfy that condition.
Sperling, IntraVest and others met city planners and lawyers July 1 to discuss a Memorandum of Understanding for an arena.
Mayor Claudia Balducci and city council further discussed the situation July 6 in a closed executive session. On July 9, consultant Sue Sander of Normandeau Associates, who had done environmental impact statements for Safeco and CenturyLink Fields, offered to help Bellevue complete one in seven months to beat the Tukwila project’s fast-tracked timeline.
But then, a key investor pulled out and the Bellevue group collapsed. A source says the group had courted Las Vegas based venture capitalist Mark Arioto, CEO of R Squared Alpha Fund, but whether he was the balking investor is unclear.
Arioto did not respond to interview requests.
For now, the NHL has yet to approve expansion anywhere and is said to still want to come here — perhaps by relocating a troubled franchise. But as always, the wait continues to see whether an arena gets approved someplace before pucks drop on future NHL seasons.