Arena developer Chris Hansen wrote on his Sodo arena project website that despite the loss of a key vote Monday with the Seattle City Council, his plan is not necessarily at a dead end. His statement:
Today’s City Council vote was disappointing but we don’t believe it is the end of the road in our quest to bring the NBA and NHL back to Seattle. We know all the fans who have stood solidly by us these past years share our disappointment but it is important that we all stay focused on our shared goal.
We now need to take a little time to step back and evaluate our options, better understand the council’s concerns and find a path forward. We will keep you posted.
In a related development, an influential politician cheered the 5-4 vote by the council that ruled against vacating a block of Occidental Avenue South, which Hansen needed for the Sodo site.
King County Council member Pete von Reichbauer long has been a skeptic of the Sodo location and the lack of options in siting an arena. Von Reichbauer played a key role 20 years ago in persuading Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen to buy the Seahawks after owner Ken Behring moved the Seahawks for two weeks to Southern California.
But the sale happened only after a stadium proposal won a statewide ballot measure to help fund what is now CenturyLink Field.
Von Reichbauer also has been an ally of the Mariners in their opposition to the arena site.
His statement Monday after the vote:
“The 5-4 vote of the Council to break up the Hansen monopoly opens up other opportunities for potential NBA and NHL owners to come to the Seattle area.
I commend the majority of the Seattle City Council for stepping back from the precipice of a potentially bad decision. Public policy should be based on fact, not fiction.
For all of the fans who want the Supersonics back, there are options other than Chris Hansen. This decision creates opportunities to look at the other potential locations for an arena.
If the city had committed to the Hansen vacation, it would have limited the potential sites.
This is a vote that means there are now more opportunities — not just one.”
Bellevue has long been discussed as a potential site for an arena, in part because many Sonics season-ticket holders were Eastside residents and dreaded the access and parking in the lower Queen Anne neighborhood, which has only gotten worse since the 2008 departure of the Sonics.
But for a variety of reasons, no Bellevue plan took clear shape.
Also in the discussion is Tukwila, where Connecticut investment banker Ray Bartoszek took options on land purchases for an arena that would be a hockey-first venue. Little has come to light this year on his project.
Because of Hansen’s deal, a memorandum of understanding between him, the city and King County signed in November 2012 for five years, alternative sites couldn’t gain much traction until the fate of Hansen’s project was determined.
Since the deal still has 18 months to run, and Hansen said he’s not done, it’s unclear if anything has changed regarding a pursuit of alternative sites. Any investors curious about jumping into suburban locations would need to know that Hansen’s project no longer is viable.
Hansen would have one obvious, and least desirable, option: Suing the city, presumably for some violation of the terms of the MOU. That might involve the city’s interest in a remodel of KeyArena, which was the subject of a council-commissioned report by arena builder AECOM that was completed in May 2015.
The report said a remodel of the Key to accommodate pro hockey and basketball could be done for less than $300 million. The pursuit of the report was part of the MOU, but its conclusion allowed Sodo arena opponents to grab onto it and say that there was an alternative that the Sodo arena’s environmental impact statement failed to consider.
Had the council voted to approve the vacation, the AECOM report’s findings likely would have been a part of a lawsuit brought by the Port of Seattle as early as Tuesday.
The report did not address Seattle Center’s parking and access, nor could it consider funding sources. It’s unlikely that private investors could be found to invest in a building that the leagues do not want, no matter how it was remodeled, especially on public property in a park. Nor is the city likely to have its own money, nor the political will to put funding for a remodel on a ballot measure.
Other options for Hansen are hard to discern, but one result is clear: The NBA has for years been dismayed at the market’s absence of support from state and local governments. It is a big part of why the Sonics were allowed to relocate.
As with any monopoly, the NBA/NHL expect cities and states to bend to their will. Once again, Seattle did not bend.
The NBA does not like Seattle. Nothing Monday changed the view.