Chris Hansen wasn’t around to shake hands Thursday afternoon. But he did leave a check.
For that a Seattle sports community is grateful.
As applause and cheers sprinkled a City Hall press conference, Mayor Mike McGinn unveiled the specifics of a $500 million arena proposal for SoDo that would be largely privately funded and “could mean that the Seattle SuperSonics will play once again in our city.
“A major reason we’re here today is because of Chris Hansen. He approached us a few months ago about bringing an NBA team back to Seattle. He was and is a major fan of the SuperSonics.”
Hansen, who grew up in the Rainier Valley and graduated from Roosevelt High School, came home this week from a successful career as a hedge fund manager in San Francisco and formalized a pitch eight months in the making that electrified sports fans wanting the return of an NBA franchise.
Committing to pay $290 million of the project’s estimated cost, as well as becoming the point man in bringing an established team from the NBA and possibly the NHL to Seattle, Hansen answered behind the scenes all the questions put to him by city officials. After the 2008 passage of Initiative 91 that mandated pro sports teams had to return to the city a modest profit for any public investment, Seattle found its long-sought angel investor with a jones for hoops and the money to pay for it.
“We knew we had to get a fair return on our investment,” McGinn said. “We also wanted to ensure the arena was going to get a fair return and had to be funded through its own revenue streams. Equally important was that we wanted to make sure we had the kind of relationship that was long-term and enduring.”
“This proposal is as close as we’ve come — very promising,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine. The county and city will share the $200 million public portion in an unspecified ratio, but McGinn and Constantine took pains to assure that there would be no new taxes and virtually no risk to taxpayers.
The key to the deal was a guarantee by Hansen that if the revenues from taxes generated by the events and other city taxes, as well as the annual rent, fail to cover the annual debt service on the 30-year construction bonds, he and his investment group would make up the difference.
The NBA and NHL teams would also have to agree to a lease matching the 30-year length of the bonds, a provision that wasn’t a part of the deal between KeyArena and the Sonics that helped lead to their departure in 2008 after 41 years.
Column to come from Art Thiel