Microsoft chairman Steve Ballmer and scions of the Seattle clothing-store empire, brothers Peter and Erik Nordstrom, will join Chris Hansen in his proposed arena project, adding momentum to what has become a public campaign to win votes in the city and county councils.
In a letter to Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and King County Executive Dow Constantine Wednesday morning, Hansen, under some pressure by the city and county councils, released the first names in a group that could include as many as 10 investors who propose to build a $490 million arena in SoDo to suit relocated NBA and NHL teams.
The announcement precedes a rally at 4 p.m. Thursday in Pioneer Square to demonstrate public support for the project. The announcement and rally are timed to take advantage of national attention on resentment in the market for the arrival in the NBA Finals of the Oklahoma City Thunder, the former Seattle SuperSonics franchise that was sold out of Seattle in 2008 because KeyArena was deemed inadequate.
Both councils are holding separate hearings on a memorandum of understanding signed by the mayor an executive to create the arena. A group of businesses, including the Port of Seattle and the Mariners, have objected to the location, claiming the increased congestion of a third sports building will hurt businesses and change the character of the mostly industrial neighborhood.
Hansen’s letter said in part: “These three gentlemen, like me, are committed to operating the arena and NBA franchise in a way that represents and upholds the values of our community. They appreciate the role the Sonics played in this community for more than 40 years and see this project as an opportunity to bring that civic asset back
to our community.
“They also understand the unique ability of professional basketball to positively affect urban youth. Their participation in the ownership group brings added assurances the business will always be backed by strong local hands and reinforces my commitment that the team will never again leave Seattle.”
Inclusion of Ballmer, 55, was no surprise. A longtime basketball fan who was involved in a failed bid to renovate KeyArena to keep the Sonics in 2008, Ballmer is ranked 19th on Forbes latest list of the world’s billionaires with an estimated worth of $15.7 billion. He’s been Mircosoft chairman since 2000 and sold 18 percent of his company shares in November 2010.
Nor was the inclusion of the Nordstrom family a surprise. Peter Nordstrom, 49, vice-president of the chain and president of merchandising, was part of the Sonics ownership group under previous owner Howard Schultz and voted against the sale of the franchise to Clay Bennett in July 2006.
Erik Nordstrom, 47, is also a senior Nordstrom executive. They are sons of Bruce Nordstrom and nephews of John Nordstrom, who from 1976 to 1988 headed the family’s ownership of the Seahawks.
The men are great grandsons of John W. Nordstrom, a Swedish immigrant who opened the first Nordstrom store in 1901.