The leaders of Seattle and King County on Thursday unveiled an investor's proposal to build a $500 million NBA and NHL arena in Seattle that would be financed mostly by an investment group and with no new public taxes.
"This proposal we've received is worthy of serious consideration," King County Executive Dow Constantine said at a news conference with Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn.
The proposal outlined Thursday is the brainchild of wealthy San Francisco hedge fund manager Christopher Hansen, 44, who grew up in Seattle and who began discussing the plan with Seattle and King County leaders months ago.
The $500 million arena would be paid for mostly by a private investment group led by Hansen, but would include $200 million in city and county financing that would be repaid over the next 30 years through rent on the arena and tax revenue it generates, including property, sales and admissions taxes.
McGinn and Constantine insisted the proposal includes no new public taxes, and that the city and county would not pay anything until an NBA and NHL team were found that would play in Seattle.
"My fellow fans, yes, we have the chance to do something special," Constantine said, but cautioned that it's very early in the process. "No, it's not Game 7. This is the tip-off of the first game of the preseason."The proposed arena would be built in the Seattle stadium district where the Seahawks' CenturyLink and Mariners' Safeco fields are located.
McGinn and Constantine appointed a panel of community leaders to evaluate the plan and said that it was a "full partnership between the county and city." One of those panelists is Lenny Wilkins, the coach who led the Sonics to their 1979 championship.
Constantine said they hope for a report back from the "Arena Panel" within a month. "We would like to move quickly and deliberately," he said.
In a letter to McGinn and Dow, Hansen said, "It is our hope that this will proceed at a pace that will allow us to make a formal offer to the NBA at the league's April ownership meeting, with the goal of returning a professional basketball franchise to this area in the near future."
Constantine and the mayor each emphasized the number of jobs that would be created in the area if the arena were built.
"If we succeed, this project means hundreds of millions of dollars for the city," McGinn said. "I want to be clear, this is a revenue that would otherwise not exist."
"We are not putting public dollars into this," he added.
Important points of the proposal include:
- No new taxes
- No risk to public money
- It needs to comply with Initiative 91, meaning that the stadium must make a profit
- Cost overruns would be borne by private investors
- Private funding should be allocated to determine if KeyArena can be modified to continue to contribute financially to the Seattle Center
The lease on the stadium would be a 30-year non-binding agreement, so teams cannot move to another city within that time period. But before any ground can be broken, an NBA and NHL team each must agree to make Seattle their home and agree to the lease terms.
McGinn said that if the stadium were built, teams' presence needs to be "enduring." The Seattle Sonics started in Seattle in 1967 and left in 2008. Seattle retained the name of the team, so any basketball team in Seattle would be known as the Sonics.
McGinn said obtaining an NBA team to come to Seattle is Hansen's "part of the equation." Another party would need to recruit an NHL team.
Some of the city's best-known sports team owners released a statement Thursday in support of the new arena.
"It was a sad day when the Sonics left Seattle, a move I opposed," said Paul Allen, owner of the Seahawks. "It’s exciting to think about the NBA coming back to Seattle and renewing the rivalry with the Portland Trail Blazers. However, it is too early for me to comment any further without a specific plan or proposal to review."
Allen is credited with keeping the Seahawks in Seattle when he purchased the team in 1997. He is also a co-owner of the Sounders soccer team.
In a joint statement, Sounders owner Adrian Hanauer and Seahawks and Sounders president Peter McLoughlin said: "We support anything that is good for the Seattle community and downtown development. Both the Seahawks and Sounders believe that the economic and cultural benefits of professional sports are a central and important contributor to any community’s growth."
Seattle Storm CEO and President Karen Bryant said, "All of us here at the Seattle Storm enthusiastically support the return of the NBA to Seattle. This is a basketball-loving town. Today’s announcement is just the beginning of a very long process, but we will support the effort in any way we can.”
Seattle-area state Sens. David Frockt, Jeanne Kohl-Welles, Margarita Prentice and state Rep. Eric Pettigrew all applauded the proposal, noting in a joint statement that it's "a smart approach" that no request will be made to the Legislature for state funds.
A more detailed proposal for the arena could be reviewed by the Seattle City Council and Metropolitan King County Council this spring.