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Game Changer in SoDo?

Roughly 6 months ago, the Seattle City Council declined the street vacation request by Chris Hansen by a vote of 5-4 that would have cleared the last governmental hurdle for the SoDo arena to become a reality. As you may recall, council members cited the amount of public financing as their reason for SeattleArenarejecting the street vacation. Yesterday, the Hansen group, in attempt to alleviate the city council concerns, proposed a plan that is seen by many as a possible game changer in the quest to bring the NBA back and the NHL to Seattle. The Hansen Group sent a letter to the Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, Seattle City Council, and King County Executive, Dow Constantine, that proposes to go 100% private for the arena and make up the short fall in the Lander overpass project. The proposal would essentially eliminate the MOU between Hansen, City of Seattle and King County which was dependent on public financing.

Eliminates the NBA first requirement

One of a conditions in the current MOU is that the public financing was conditional on the Hansen group procuring an NBA franchise. This was commonly referred to as the “NBA First” clause. Without the need for public financing, the NBA first scenario is no longer a requirement. This would be more of a symbolic change than an actual change since Hansen could have started building the Arena without a team and without the public financing….assuming he was successful in getting the street vacated. For the NHL first scenario, the bigger question is if Hansen can find a potential NHL owner/partner that would be able to take on more risk of the arena in case the NBA never pans out. Former Seattle Sonics owner and one of the partners in the Hansen Group, Wally Walker confirmed on KJR Sports Radio yesterday that he guesses (with a big emphasis on guess) that the NHL would more than likely come before the NBA expands to Seattle. Walker mentioned that the group continues to have preliminary talks with prospective NHL ownership groups.

 Next Steps

The details on next steps are a little murky, but all signs point to another round of city council meetings and re-vote on the street vacation. Early estimates peg this City Council vote in December but in the history of this project, rarely do things hit the early estimates. I anticipate mid-January before this sees the inside of the City Council chambers. These news cycles go in waves so I would anticipate we will hear more from the Hansen camp over the next several weeks.

“The City will review the letter sent by a group of stakeholders, including Chris Hansen, suggesting a revision to the previous SODO arena proposal. We share the goal of bringing the NBA and NHL to Seattle. The City will continue to consider all options to build a new, state of the art arena that will accomplish that goal and that can serve the city for years to come.” – Seattle Mayor Ed Murray

Temper enthusiasm

Hearing progress on any arena plan is great news after the quietest 6 month period over the last 5 years of arena news. Even if the Mayor, City Council, and County agree to Hansen’s new proposal, that doesn’t guarantee us an NHL (or NBA) team. If they do start building without an NBA team, a potential NHL owner will more than likely need to take on significant risk on construction of the building. As far as we can tell, 3 potential NHL owners (Levin, Bartoszek, and Coleman) have not been able to agree to terms with Hansen so this appears to be a significant hurdle. Victor Coleman’s current status on this project remains unclear. He popped up in the news cycle about 2 years ago and we have heard very little about him since. The point is, it’s fine to have hope but we’ve been down this road a couple times, let’s not pop any champagne bottles just yet.

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John Barr
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