It was the question that launched a thousand others by NBA fans on both coasts.
When reporter Cameron Buford, who has written for the Los Angeles News Observer, asked Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant a postgame question Friday night about his support for reviving the NBA in Seattle, he prefaced it by saying, “Seattle is having a meeting to try to bring back the Sonics” on May 13. Television viewers in Seattle and around the nation perked their ears up the moment the words left Buford’s mouth.
Only problem? Nobody from the city, the KeyArena renovation team or the NBA knew anything about such a meeting. Some on Twitter even speculated that Buford had mistakenly referenced a similar meeting that occurred on the same date six years ago.
But in an interview Tuesday, Buford reiterated that a meeting is indeed planned for inside of two weeks from now, involving entrepreneur Chris Hansen and his investment group that remains stalled in efforts to build a new arena in the city’s Sodo District.
Buford, 47, a Seattle native now based in Los Angeles, said he was told in early April about the meeting by Abin Nellams, who has been working closely with Hansen’s group and two weeks ago appeared with the entrepreneur on a community radio program. Buford said he and Nellams have been in regular contact about the Sodo arena group’s plans.
“I was planning to come up there around that time to interview Chris Hansen, and he said ‘We’re having this meeting, why don’t you come join us?’ ” Buford said.
Buford said the 5:30 p.m. meeting at the Washington State Labor Council building on 16th Ave. S. will be about bringing “social equity and social justice back to Seattle” and will include Hansen and Sodo project partner Wally Walker, and potentially Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (an investor in Hansen’s group) as well as members of the local NAACP.
Nellams is a member of the “Seattle community coalition” — which has a working agreement with the Sodo group on community involvement should that project get built — and an executive committee member with the Seattle King County NAACP, dealing primarily with labor and industries. The NAACP chapter has been supportive of Hansen’s efforts for years, with former president Gerald Hankerson calling repeatedly for the city to sell a portion of Occidental Ave. South to the Sodo group — sometimes appearing at council meetings to push the demands in-person.
In an interview Tuesday, Nellams said the local NAACP is organizing the meeting and plans to keep pressing for Occidental to be sold to Hansen’s group.
“All of the community groups are going to get together and start putting a lot of pressure on the Mayor and the council members to vacate this street,” Nellams said. “That’s pretty much what it’s about.”
Nellams said the community coalition — which bills itself as “a diverse group of community organizations devoted to creating social and economic changes surrounding the Sodo area” — had not approached the Los Angeles-based Oak View Group (OVG), to ask for an agreement similar to the one struck with Hansen’s group. OVG is undertaking a separate, $900 million privately-funded overhaul of KeyArena to be completed by 2021.
“I have not approached them, but if they wanted to come talk with the coalition they could,” Nellams said. “But Chris (Hansen) came out, he met with us and he’s local. He’s a local dude. To me and to our coalition, it just seems like the City of Seattle is giving so much to the Oak View Group. … What is wrong with two billionaire groups competing with each other?”
Hansen did not respond to a request for comment.
NBA spokesman Mike Bass said this week: “We haven’t heard about any meeting.”
Mark Prentice, a spokesman for Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, also said no city staffers were made aware of the meeting.
Buford said he figured he would get a comment from Durant about the meeting because he was covering the Warriors game Friday, when they eliminated the Los Angeles Clippers. When Buford asked whether Durant would lend his support to efforts to bring an NBA team back here, he replied: “Since we left, I’ve been screaming that a team needs to go there, so yeah.”
Hansen’s group has tried unsuccessfully for years to get the city to sell it part of Occidental to complete the land acquisitions needed for the venue. Three years ago this week, the Seattle City Council voted 5-4 against selling the street.
At the time, city-council members expressed concerns about the Hansen group’s funding and ability to get the arena built – it needed to land an NBA team by a December 2017 deadline and ultimately failed to attract one – as well as what a second arena would mean for the fate of city-owned KeyArena.
Some council members also echoed concerns about traffic and event scheduling in the area expressed by numerous stakeholders, including the Mariners, Seahawks, Sounders and the Port of Seattle.
And though Hansen’s group has since dropped its initial plans to seek public funding for the project, the city moved on and instead agreed to the deal with OVG on KeyArena. But the Sodo group is still pushing to be sold Occidental and released a statement on its website, SonicsArena.com, last week, calling for it to be made a city election issue this fall.
The Sodo group has said previously it will need to add investors to be able to afford its arena, but won’t do so until it is sold the street and can first land an NBA team to play there.
Unlike the KeyArena plans, the Sodo group says the NBA team would be the lone major sports attraction at its venue.
OVG is demolishing KeyArena under its existing roof and digging down an additional 15 feet so it can nearly double its footprint to 800,000 square feet and make it compatible for any future NBA team as well as an incoming NHL franchise scheduled to launch in October 2021. The company also has a partnership with LiveNation, which has an equity stake in KeyArena, that will guarantee it a continuing lineup of major music concerts to play the venue on nights when no sports are taking place.