If approved, the Memorandum of Understanding between the city and the Oak View Group is expected to hasten the awarding of an NHL franchise in Seattle.
A major step toward finalizing a $600 million renovation of KeyArena was taken Thursday when a revised Memorandum of Understanding was advanced to a Dec. 4 Seattle City Council approval vote.
The council’s Select Committee on Civic Arenas voted 5-0 to send the revised package to the full city council. If approved next month, the formalized MOU between the City of Seattle and Los Angeles-based Oak View Group (OVG) is expected to hasten the awarding of an NHL franchise here. To approve the MOU on Dec. 4, five “Yes” votes would be needed from the nine-member city council.
At the same time, the committee dealt a serious blow to the hopes of a rival group led by entrepreneur Chris Hansen that wants to build a new arena in city’s Sodo District. The committee took no action on a proposal to eliminate MOU language that would prevent the city from subsidizing any rival arena project of more than 15,000 seats — wording aimed at the competing Sodo group.
Hansen’s plan requires the city to sell him part of Occidental Ave. S. to complete his intended project’s land — an action that could be legally be defined as a subsidy.
Council member Debora Juarez, who co-chairs the committee with Bruce Harrell, told reporters afterward that she has no idea whether the MOU language could prevent another so-called street “vacation’’ request by Hansen.
“I’ll be real frank with you: the street vacation is yesterday’s news,” said Juarez, who voted against Hansen’s first attempt to buy the street in May 2016 when the council blocked the move. “I really don’t know what to tell you about that. This is about looking forward. This is about Seattle Center, KeyArena and hopefully bringing back a hockey team and a basketball team. I don’t care about what happened in the last 18 months. That’s the past, and I’d really like to leave it there.”
Juarez also didn’t want to discuss the Hansen group’s request that its revised, all-private offer to build a Sodo arena be considered alongside the KeyArena renovation proposal. Hansen’s group recently offered to build a $100 million downsized concert venue at KeyArena once his $600 million Sodo arena proposal is approved and built.
“I have no idea about that,” Juarez said. “I’m not here to talk about that. I voted on that 18 months ago, and I voted ‘No’ on that. It’s done. It’s over. I’m looking forward. That’s a failed MOU. That’s the past.”
Hansen’s ongoing five-year MOU will expire Dec. 3 unless he lands an NBA team before then. The vote to ratify a new MOU on KeyArena is set for the day following that expiration, as long as OVG agrees to the requested amendments put for by the committee.
The primary amendments would require OVG to pay at least half of a planned $20 million charitable contribution to non-profit groups in cash instead of “in kind” equivalents. Also, they’d require OVG to communicate on event scheduling with other Seattle Center tenants.
“I don’t think the public has had a chance to really know how much work has gone in to this,” Juarez said of the committee’s work, adding she’s excited and “hoping that at some point we can have a hockey team and we can have a basketball team.”
Juarez said city officials have not been promised teams by either league. But she told reporters that after discussions with Leiweke, his investors and the city’s arena consultants, she’s confident they are coming.
“Let’s not fool ourselves, nobody’s going to pour $600 million in to a city unless they know they have something to bring and they’re sure of their investments,’’ she said. “These people, who are experts in their fields, are sure of their investments.”
OVG hopes to have the remodeled facility ready by October 2020 to enable an NHL expansion or relocated franchise to begin play there for the 2020-21 season.
Photos | OVG renderings of KeyArena renovation
City-council consultant David Stone told Thursday’s committee hearing that OVG is highly incentivized to land pro teams for the venue. Stone estimates that OVG’s incremental revenues would jump from $119 million to $381 million with an NHL team and then to $614 million if an NBA club is added as well.
OVG co-founder Tim Leiweke has said his group would share such revenue with the teams via ownership stakes in the remodeled arena, making the venture profitable for all.
The NHL is eyeing Seattle and Houston as possible expansion or relocation cities. An NHL source has indicated that the league is pondering possible relocation of the Arizona Coyotes or Calgary Flames, adding that Seattle or Houston could host the relocated franchise and the other would receive an expansion team.
Though Houston appears best served for relocation — given the arena is built and hosts the NBA Houston Rockets — financial considerations would play a role. An expansion team could cost up to $650 million, and a relocation fee could be $300 million.
Stone delivered a financial report to the committee stating that OVG would cover the $600 million renovation cost with private funding in addition to about $65 million in pledges to the city’s transportation fund, non-profit groups, consultants and fees. Though a federal historical tax credit benefit could soon be eliminated — OVG hopes to recoup roughly 10 percent of renovation costs via such credits — city arena consultant Carl Hirsch told the committee that OVG would cover that amount through additional private equity or financing.
Council member Sally Bagshaw asked Hirsch whether there would be enough arena-generated revenue to attract NBA teams after the NHL arrives. Hirsch replied that OVG’s model of offering teams equity shares in the arena and associated revenues would “absolutely” be attractive and added that officials in both leagues are supportive of these plans.
“There is enough money in the overall big pot to attract teams,” Hirsch said.
The majority of public comments at Thursday’s final hearing ahead of a vote were made by theatrical and stage workers, as well as users of a public skate park to be demolished by the renovation. The unionized workers said they largely support the KeyArena project — with one or two exceptions — but are concerned about potential job losses.
The skate-park users are concerned about the lack of any replacement site being designated as of yet, saying that could make it difficult to get city funding approved.