Hansen, the Seattle-raised hedge-fund manager, has spent the past six years trying to bring back the Sonics. There have been missteps and surprises that have impeded his progress, but now he says this can be a two-arena town — one for hockey and music, and one for basketball.
I don’t know if Chris Hansen should get an arena. I don’t know if he should get an NBA team. I don’t know if he should get a conditional street vacation, either.
I do know what Hansen should get, though: One last listen from the city.
Hansen, the Seattle-raised hedge-fund manager, has spent the past six years trying to bring back the Sonics. There have been missteps and gut-punching surprises that have impeded his progress, but he has remained a paragon of persistence.
Last year, after the Seattle City Council voted down his request for the vacation, or sale, of Occidental Avenue South in Sodo — where he has spent tens of millions on property in hopes of building an NBA arena — he altered his proposal to a make it a privately funded project. Last month, after the city began finalizing a Memorandum of Understanding with the Tim Leiweke-led Oak View Group — which wants to lure the NHL and NBA to Seattle by renovating KeyArena for $600 million — Hansen proposed to pledge $100 million to transform KeyArena into a smaller music venue.
And after the city said that pitch came too late, Hansen responded by saying this can be a two-arena town — one for hockey and music, and one for basketball if need be.
“If the city wants to pursue that and build an arena there, that’s OK with us,” Hansen said of the KeyArena renovation. “It’s their asset. It’s not our place to tell them what to do. But we are also trying to build a completely privately financed arena, with our own capital in a place that was zoned for an arena. … We don’t understand how this is a negative. Our ask is for a conditional street vacation to build an arena if we get a team. If we have actually got a team, isn’t that what it’s all about? We are not going to build an arena without a team.”
The first question that comes to mind is whether having two arenas in this city is economically viable. OVG’s initial pitch was to turn KeyArena into a world-class music venue that could host NHL and NBA teams, potentially giving it three major sources of income. Could an arena with just an NBA team survive?
Well, Hansen points out that his original plan — which was to bring the Sonics back via the Sacramento Kings — proposed an NBA-only arena. The Warriors, meanwhile, are building an NBA-only arena in the Bay Area with the NHL’s Sharks playing in San Jose. The Phoenix Suns have an NBA-only arena despite the NHL’s Coyotes being in the area. And Clippers owner Steve Ballmer is trying to exit Los Angeles’ Staples Center — which he shares with the Lakers and the NHL’s Kings — and build a venue for his team alone.
Would the concept work in Seattle? We don’t know for sure. But there is a precedent for it, and it’s probably worth looking into. Another question: What risk would the city council be taking by granting Hansen’s group a conditional vacation? Hansen says none, but I don’t know if that’s completely true.
KeyArena is a city asset, and as far as I know — if the council gives another group a chance to lure away concerts or sports teams from OVG — the city could lose out on profits from parking and tax revenues, which could benefit Seattle at large. And in the end, the council should act in the best interest in the city.
But civic pride is immeasurable, and I have to think the Sonics would provide that. And it’s possible that a prospective NBA ownership group would scoff at the idea of having to share an arena with the NHL and LiveNation.
That’s not meant as a shot at Leiweke, who has helped build jaw-dropping venues around the world and developed strong relationships with NHL and NBA owners alike. OVG might very well get the Sonics, but having a backup plan with Hansen’s group seems more prudent than risky.
I admit I could be wrong about that. There are myriad factors at play in all this, and every time one side makes an argument, the other seems to come back with a compelling rebuttal.
But the way Hansen is talking, he’d be OK with OVG landing an NBA team as long as it meant having the Sonics back. He just wants to provide an option if that falls through.
Perhaps that plan is flawed, but given what it could mean for this city and its sports fans, it’s at least worth one more look.