Saying “getting a team is the much more difficult part than finding the partners,” arena developer Chris Hansen was undeterred by former partner Steve Ballmer’s purchase of the Los Angeles Clippers for $2 billion. In interviews with 950 KJR-AM and the Associated Press Monday, Hansen said he was open to the option of bringing in the NHL as first tenant ahead of the NBA.
“If the city and the NHL . . . would like to change the memorandum of understanding that accommodates them, and isn’t worse off for us, that’s great,” Hansen told KJR. It appears that in the absence of a team for sale and the NBA’s reluctance to relocate franchises or expand, Hansen has no short-term options for populating the arena except possibly for the NHL. But said he has no personal plan to seek hockey to alter the MOU.
A prospective Seattle ownership group led by Los Angeles investors Victor Coleman and Jonathan Glaser met May 6 with Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine to inquire about the MOU and the options for hockey. The NHL is considered more open to expanding than the NBA, and likes its chances to succeed in a market where it never has been, if it enters before the NBA.
“There should be no question about that — we’re building this arena as a two-sport building,” Hansen told AP. “It has the larger footprint for hockey. We’ve worked hard to do that. We would like to do everything in our power to allow hockey to come here in a way that makes sense for the NHL and for a prospective partner.”
But before he gets there, Hansen needs approval from the city council for his SoDo project, which can come only after a final environmental impact statement is delivered. City officials have estimated the EIS to be done no earlier than September. Hansen is seeking up to $200 million from the city’s borrowing capacity to fund a $500 million arena that would require no new or existing tax money.
Hansen said that without a team imminent, there was no reason to rush the EIS.
”There is nothing we have to do (immediately),” he told AP. “We own the land outright. There is no immediate time pressure that we have to do something and that’s been very well received by the NBA as well . . . the fact we’re willing to be patient and endure through this.”
As far as securing other investors, Hansen said while it would be hard to find someone of Ballmer’s $20 billion net worth, it also wasn’t necessary. He said other investors were ready when Ballmer entered the partnership in 2012. And he made a point of saying that the three most recent sales of NBA teams (Kings, Bucks, Clippers) included investors from outside the local market.
“I just don’t think that’s an overarching concern here,” he said of Ballmer’s departure. “I don’t think it’s an overarching concern for the NBA either.’’
He thinks the presence of Ballmer on the inside of the NBA will be of value once a team either comes for sale or the NBA decides to expand: “I think the NBA will look very positively on one of most successful business leaders in the world singing Seattle’s praises, when it comes our way.
“It’s likely that we would bring on at least another partner, or two, or three. I don’t think we want 20 partners. I think a handful of good partners is great.’’
Hansen was unfazed by the likely increase in potential expansion fees for an NBA team, saying it helps Seattle politicians because it raises the value of the team, against which the city has a lien in case the arena for whatever reason fails to work financially.
“Franchise value going up is great for the city,’’ Hansen said. “The city has more collateral.’’
Hansen has faith that the city will come through once there is an arena deal struck and a team is acquired.
“We’ve lived up to our end of the bargain,’’ he said. “And you’d better believe that we’ll be aggressive when another opportunity does come up.’’