Hansen has earned the emotional attachment he’s engendered with his efforts to bring back the Sonics. But barring an unforeseen change, the city is going to throw its support to one of two proposals to renovate KeyArena, rather than Hansen’s plan to build a new facility in Sodo.
The loyalty and affection toward Chris Hansen from those yearning for a new arena and the return of the Sonics is understandable.
He was the one who revived the movement when it was virtually dormant, providing much-needed vigor and hope. He’s the one who has endured setback after setback, and yet always came back with new resolve and a new wrinkle to his plan.
Hansen has earned the emotional attachment he’s engendered by being first, and being resolute even in the face of adversity. Yet it’s time for his followers, and those whose ultimate goal is to get an NBA (and NHL) team to Seattle, to wrap their brain around reality, rather than visceral emotion.
Namely that, barring an unforeseen change of circumstance, the city is going to throw its ultimate support to one of two proposals to renovate KeyArena rather than Hansen’s plan to build a new facility in Sodo.
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It’s not official, of course. There are numerous steps ahead, including the mayor’s recommendation for his preferred KeyArena project, likely to come next week. Then the city council will have to hammer out a contract with the anointed one. The council also could opt for Hansen’s project by granting the Occidental Avenue street vacation, which effectively would halt the KeyArena revision in its tracks.
So there’s still a hypothetical chance for Hansen and Sodo. But to quote Bob Dylan, you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. It might not be fair — and in many ways, it has been a stacked deck against Hansen from the beginning — but the political momentum has swung almost irreversibly toward KeyArena.
That’s the case no matter how many sweeteners Hansen puts in his proposal, and there have been many. Since losing the first street-vacation vote, 5-4, in May 2016, Hansen has agreed to fund the project in its entirety and pay for transportation improvements, including the Lander Street overpass. The Sodo contingent also can make the valid, virtually irrefutable, argument that it is the superior location by virtue of its traffic and parking advantages.
Yet it’s still likely not going to be enough, and it boils down to one huge, overriding factor that has been hanging over Hansen’s group from the start: the city’s need to solve the ongoing problem of what to do about KeyArena. The June 2015 report by the AECOM architectural firm, solicited by the city to study the issue, painted a grim picture of expensive alternatives. The report said it would cost at least $100 million, more likely approaching $150 million, of taxpayer money to upgrade KeyArena into something moderately profitable.
But now the city is staring at not one, but two prestigious companies — the Oak View Group (OVG) and the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), now operating as the Seattle Partners Group after teaming with Hudson Pacific Properties — that are willing to foot the bill for a total remake of the Key that would cost more than a half-billion dollars in each case.
You certainly can (and should) question the amount of public money and subsidies involved in their proposals, particularly the Seattle Partners, who are asking for bonding from the city to help finance their deal. But to the city’s eyes, it would appear, it’s not enough negativity to outweigh the prospect of having their KeyArena problem magically solved.
Meanwhile, both Seattle Partners and OVG have close connections to the power brokers in the NBA and NHL, with OVG’s Tim Leiweke having been on the Board of Governors in both leagues. Hansen still doesn’t have an NHL partner, while OVG is partnered with the food-services company owned by Jeremy Jacobs, highly influential owner of the Boston Bruins. Seattle Partners now includes Victor Coleman, owner of Hudson Pacific and long desirous of owning an NHL team.
Unlike Hansen, the KeyArena groups plan to start building immediately to provide tangible evidence to the leagues that an edifice is forthcoming. Hansen’s process is the opposite — as of now, he’s waiting until they have a commitment from a team before a shovel goes into the ground. Both strategies have their risks, yet the former seems more conducive to enticing the NHL and NBA.
Hansen’s proponents question the intensity with which either Key group would pursue a sports team considering that, in OVG’s case, they can’t own it themselves, and both have made it clear that the revamped Key could be profitable as a music-only venue. But both also have a long history of involvement with the NHL and NBA.
Perhaps Hansen can pull a Hail Mary and produce an NHL partner, or announce that he has the financial backing to build on spec. But he still has to work out a scheduling agreement with the Mariners, Seahawks and Sounders that stands as a major potential roadblock for a Sodo arena.
Certainly, in the crazy world of Seattle politics, you never say never — particularly when you have a lame-duck mayor at the forefront and an election on the horizon. But after more than five years of striving ceaselessly for a new arena that will bring the Sonics back, Chris Hansen very well might have to be content with the knowledge that his efforts helped grease the way for someone else.