SoDo is Dead

I know there are a lot of folks that wanted to see the SoDo site be the location of Seattle’s arena to host NHL and NBA teams, but the door seems to have been closed indefinitely as the City of Seattle shared that they will not be re-voting on the Occidental Street Vacation that the Hansen would need to build their arena in SoDo.SeattleArena

I have said SoDo is dead before and nothing has really changed my mind since I originally posted in May of 2016. That post was before KeyArena was brought up as an option. It was clear to me that the current City Council decided that SoDo is not where they wanted another sports facility to be built. Since that post, nothing has materially changed. Hansen offered to forego his $130M in public financing for the street vacation, but that was much ado about nothing. It didn’t go over well, but I chalked this up as “no news” news. The financing has always been tied to Hansen procuring an NBA team and since the NBA has made it clear that they were not expanding before the MOU was set to expire, the financing was a non-issue.

The reasons for the unwillingness for the city to revisit the street vacation could be any combination of the following reasons:

  1. No money. When Ballmer left the group that eliminated Hansen’s majority owner/partner. Hansen could have addressed this, but, for whatever reason, hasn’t added any investors to his group. Now it is relatively impossible to replace a significant partner, like Ballmer, with over a billion in net worth. As far as I can tell, the City doesn’t grant street vacation on speculation that a company, organization or individual can attract more investors. The city expects to see all the financing in order before a street is vacated.
  2. No NHL partner. It’s no secret that the NHL is ready to expand before the NBA. Many sources have made that clear. Over a year ago, Hansen’s partner, Wally Walker confirmed that the Hansen group has continued to talk to prospective NHL owners but in 6+ years, they have not been able to bring any of them on board.
  3. Politics. Yep, flat out politics. It is easy to blame the Port of Seattle, since they were the most vocal opponent over the last 5 years. The Mariners & Seahawks were also quiet opponents of the SoDo arena plans. Those are 3 powerful groups that are difficult to overcome.
  4. Relationship with the NBA. For years there have been rumors & reports that Hansen’s relationship with the NBA has some challenges. The city has acknowledged that they have been in communication with both the NBA and NHL during the KeyArena RFP process to make sure it is viable. If this relationship issue did exist, it is certainly conceivable that the NBA would have confirmed it to the City of Seattle during these conversations.
  5. KeyArena has become viable. At the time of the Occidental Street Vacation vote, KeyArena was not really talked about as a viable option to host the NBA and NHL. outsideSince then, the City issued an RFP and got two responses to redevelop KeyArena from two power houses in the industry that have deep ties to the NBA and NHL, AEG and OVG. Both RFP responses confirmed that KeyArena could be redeveloped into a building to support NHL and NBA. The city confirmed that the Mayor’s Office were in communication with both leagues on the viability of the proposals.

KeyArena or Bust

The demise of SoDo leaves only one option for an NHL/NBA arena, a revamped KeyArena. NBA aside and focusing on the NHL, with the addition of Vegas this year, the NHL is set at 31 teams with 15 teams in the west and 16 in the east. This would imply 1 additional opening for an expansion franchise. The league will not wait for Seattle forever, especially with interest starting to percolate in Houston and Kansas City, both of which could plug and play fairly easily in the western conference and already have existing arenas. With no other options in the Seattle area, it looks like KeyArena is our only hope to see the NHL here anytime soon. There are certainly other scenarios that could play out, but it feels like our window of opportunity is now, otherwise we might be waiting a long time for an NHL team.

inside-Hockey

A couple podcasts and YouTube video

Just a quick note that I made appearances on a couple podcast over the last two weeks to talk hockey and arenas. If you are like me and itching for any and all hockey news out of Seattle, this might help fill the void because things are pretty quiet right now.

Hockey talk in Seattle

The first podcast was on Chris Cashman and Chris Daniels “The Next Best Podcast”.

The second podcast was segment of a longer podcast on the Seattle Growth Podcast.

If you like local podcasts, you should definitely subscribe to both of them.

Hockey history in Seattle

A friend sent me this video that has a lot of archived footage and information on the history of pro hockey in Seattle. Very cool and gets me pretty pumped up to see the NHL come here.

Oak View Group round up and Bettman comments on Seattle

The Oak View Group’s Tim Leiweke was in town and made a couple key stops to speak with sea_key_arena_entrthe Seattle Times and King5’s Chris Daniels. As you might recall, the Oak View Group is one of the two expected bidders on the KeyArena redevelopment RFP that could host both an NBA or NHL team. Before today, it was assumed that either AEG or OVG would be the operators of a remodeled KeyArena and not the owners of either an NHL or NBA franchise.

Seattle Times Article

The Seattle Times was definitely an enlightening read, filled will lots and lots of quotes from Leiweke himself. I urge you to read the entire article to make sure not to take my thoughts below out of context.

Here are some of the article’s highlights:

“We believe it’s going to take three or four years, preferably three,’’

My take: Seems pretty optimistic based on the snail’s pace that the SoDo project has gone. However, this is a project the city initiated vs a developer initiated project; the city might be a little more inclined to expedite the process to meet their timeline. There wasn’t a whole lot of urgency from Hansen after the Sacramento deal fell through. I honestly have no idea how long this will take. Seems like arenas can go up in a hurry, if the partners are motivated.

Leiweke said he’s in constant contact with Bettman and NBA commissioner Adam Silver and has been assured there is no imminent expansion or team relocation on the horizontimliewikeandgb for either league.

My take: Both Leiweke and AEG have strong relationships with both NHL & NBA and so I would expect both Oak View and AEG to be in lockstep with the leagues. I see this as a competitive advantage these guys have on bringing either an NHL or NBA team to Seattle over Hansen.

“I think that there are certain leaders in this community that finally took a step back and listened to Adam Silver when he said ‘There’s no expansion coming, and we’re not giving a team to Seattle right now because there’s no team moving.’ I don’t think that’s politics. I think that’s the reality of understanding the truth. And I personally believe you’ve been misled.”

My take: This isn’t really anything new. Other than an isolated report several months back reporting that expansion was happening, the league and owners have consistently said there will be no expansion anytime soon. Of course, we heard that for about 2 years leading up to the NHL’s expansion process, so it is within the realm of possibility that the league could do a 180 on this in one day. With no mention during Silver’s presser at the All-Star game and now this, it still feels NBA expansion is a ways out.

Speaking about Hansen’s attempt to buy and move the Sacramento Kings to Seattle, Leiweke said. “I don’t think that was a good day for Seattle, and I’m speaking just as a (Toronto Raptors) member of the board of governors at the time and watching that. … You don’t threaten (then-NBA commissioner) David Stern. And I’ll leave it at that.”

My take: Hmmm…there is some smoke there, but hard to know what Leiweke was talking about. Sounds like there might still be some fence mending that still needs to happen between Chris Hansen and the NBA. I’ve heard the NBA is still reluctant to deal with Hansen, but I never could substantiate that theory, so I’ve largely dismissed it. This does not validate it either. But there is something going on here between the NBA and Chris Hansen.

King 5 Piece

Later in the day, Chris Daniels from King5 published this article. The story line was similar to the Times piece with a couple added thoughts. (full interview posted here.)

Speaking about the traffic conditions down there, Oak View Group’s Lance Lopes said, “Frankly, a lot of it is based on misperceptions.  A great example: Mercer mess. If you go to Mercer at six o’clock at night and look at what the westbound traffic looks like, it actually flows quite well. Eastbound is difficult, we’re actually not going eastbound, we’re having people coming in to that area.”

My take: I travel westbound on Mercer a couple times a week between 4 and 6 from I5 to 99 and it does flow relatively well. How it will perform when there are high capacity events at KeyArena could be a different story. Then again, traffic in Sodo also increases dramatically for events at Safeco and Century link field.

“(Bettman) is fully dedicated to finding a solution in Phoenix. We cannot and we will not ultimately go prey on trying to move franchises. That was a major mistake and we will not make that mistake.”

My take: I know there has been some speculation that the Coyotes might move here, but I’ve remained pretty consistent that this will not happen. The NHL has proven that they will do everything they can to keep the team somewhere in the greater Phoenix designated market area (DMA).

Bettman in Vancouver

Coincidentally, Gary Bettman was in Vancouver last night and was asked about Seattle. Bettman says “We aren’t paying a lot of attention to it because there is no building.” He then proceeds to name all the players trying to get an arena deal done….but he’s not paying attention. This is as good as it will get from the Commissioner. I would love to hear a statement from both leagues saying that they are in regular communication with AEG or Oak View Group to ensure that the RFP responses can work as a long term home for both the NHL and NBA, but we will never get that from a commissioner until the opening faceoff or tipoff.

The arrival of Leiweke and AEG on the scene can only help the situation. Getting some honest and candid comments from any of the arena players is refreshing and I anticipate we will continue to hear more and more from AEG, Hansen, and maybe some potential NHL team owner one day.

Let’s view this as a significant progress report that people are talking to the leagues and working though some of the unique challenges with a redevelopment of Key Arena.

NHL To Seattle 2016 News in Review

From a league level, we entered the beginning of 2016 with some outstanding questions on the two NHL expansion applications from Quebec and Las Vegas. Meanwhile, locally we were still waiting on the outcome of the final street vacation on the SoDo arena.
January 14th Rumors start to circulate that the falling Canadian Dollar could adversely impact Quebec City’s NHL Expansion bid. In hindsight, this is early foreshadowing that would slowly gain steam as the league got closer to the final expansion announcement.
January 25th Slowly but surely, the final stages of the SoDo Arena street vacation vote start to materialize.
bettman_gary640
January 27th Gary Bettman references Seattle as an intriguing NHL market. At this point, the ship had sailed on expansion for this round but encouraging to know that Bettman still acknowledges Seattle as a solid market for an NHL franchise.
February 13th  Reports come out that the KeyArena could be remodeled to accommodate both NHL and NBA. Seattle times begins to push this as a better option than SoDo.
February 22nd In a response to the Seattle Times editorial, council member Tim Burgess sharply response and criticizes the Seattle Times for inaccurate reporting.
March 15th The city council conducts a public hearing on the Sodo Arena Occidental Street Vacation.
March 16th In a small blurb of Elliote Friedmans weekly column, it is revealed that Chris Hansen remains in contact with the NHL. This isn’t a game changer but important to know that communication lines remain open.
April 6th City of Seattle Transportation committee hears final presentation on Occidental Ave street vacation for the SoDo Arena. SeattleArena
April 20th Occidental Ave street vacation vote scheduled for Seattle City Council on May 2nd.
May 2nd The Occidental street vacation fails in full City Council meeting by a vote of 4 to 5. The street vacation would have been the last hurdle to have a shovel ready SoDo arena.
May 4th Theories start to circulate that the failed street vacation might break the implied monopoly the Hansen group had on arena options in the area.
May 23rd After the fallout of the denied Occidental street vacation, I claim the SoDo arena dead. (I hope I am wrong. Even though there has been plenty of activity in SoDo over the second half of 2016, it is still not clear how this street gets approved.)
vegas
June 22nd NHL awards the 31st franchise in league history to the Las Vegas for play to begin in the 2017-18 Season. Quebec City is not awarded a franchise. Under the circumstance this could be the best possible outcome for Seattle (or any other city looking to land an NHL team someday).
August 4th Communications between the Port of Seattle (staunch opponent of arena) and the Seattle Times Editor Frank Blethen reveal that the Times was working on a $290,000 PR campaign story for the Port at the same time the Seattle Times launched an editorial campaign against the SoDo Arena. If you ever wanted to know why the Seattle Times was so against the SoDo Arena, now you know.
September 22nd News reveals the Hansen group continues to accumulate land in Sodo. A strong signal that they have not given up on a SoDo arena.
October 25th Hansen group offers the City of Seattle a 100% private financing arena with more infrastructure invested in the SoDo area. (I still think this is much ado about nothing since without an NBA team the group would not get any financing anyway.)
sea_key_arena_entr
October 27th Seattle Times reveals that the City of Seattle will open up a Request for Proposal for a (major) renovation of KeyArena that could accommodate a potential NBA or NHL team.
October 28th A small blurb in a wrap up article of the week reveals that Victor Coleman is still interested in bringing the NHL to Seattle area.
November 14th In an announcement that will certainly help the PR efforts in SoDo, Seahawks Quarterback Russell Wilson announces that he has joined the Hansen Group to bring the NBA and NHL to Seattle.
November 15th Bettman confirms that the NHL is not looking at Seattle without an arena. A statement that surprised absolutely no one.
November 18th News reveals that current Carolina Hurricanes owner, Peter Karmanos wants to sell the Canes, even if it means relocation. As expected, this report is quickly denied by the league and Hurricanes management. If this ever were to come to fruition, the probable landing spot would be Quebec City. This would maintain a 15 teams in the west and 16 teams in the east.
December 15th The Oak View Group, headed up by industry vet Tim Leiweke, do a PR tour with local media outlets that reveal their intent on the KeyArena RFP process. The group mentions that they are in communications with both the NBA and NHL on their plans. They also reveal that they will not be owners of either an NBA or NHL franchise at KeyArena.

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 ColemanVictor8475_sb10_750owner 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.

Additional Reading:

 

Is Seattle’s SoDo arena dead?

The short answer is ‘Yes, SoDo arena is dead.’

As many of you know by now the Seattle City Council rejected the Occidental Street vacation in the SoDo district. This was largely thought to be the final hurdle in a 4-year process for Chris Hansen to have a shovel-ready arena site just south of Safeco field. SeattleArenaTraditionally, street vacation votes with such a glowing Environmental Impact Statement are seen as formalities. But that was not the case…

City council members that voted against the street vacation claimed the threat to Port of Seattle jobs without any data or explanation on how the arena would impact their jobs. The council members that voted no on the street vacation also claimed that since there is no NBA team in site, that there is no need to vacate the street to Chris Hansen. This is circular logic since we will never get a team if we don’t have a clear path for an arena. The entire vote was just political theater to say ‘no’ and I feel that Councilmember Sawant’s statement was the only ‘no’ vote that was sincere and transparent. As much as I disagree with her vote, I respect her honesty.

When everything was said and done, you have a City Council that refused to approve a street vacation for an Arena that had an overwhelmingly positive Environmental Impact Study in a location has the land and infrastructure to support large events. There is no realistic scenario I can see the city council reversing course on that location. Unless there is some kind of Lord of Light possibility I don’t see, I am declaring the SoDo location dead. Additionally, I am fairly convinced that if the Seattle City Council won’t approve the SoDo site, there is a slim to none chance that they will approve any other site in the City limits.

What’s next?

As crazy as it sounds, the ‘no’ vote could be a blessing for an NHL team coming to Seattle. Chris Hansen has made it clear that he doesn’t want to own an NHL team, but he is open to partnering with a potential NHL owner for a possible NHL first scenario in regards to the arena. There are/were 3 potential ownership groups (Levin, Bartoszek, and Coleman), but none of them have been able to reach terms. Without the prospects of an NBA team coming to Seattle anytime soon, an NHL owner would be at the mercy of the NBA PopulationMapsexpansion/relocation plans. With the SoDo arena plans dead, this could enabled other potential NHL ownership groups and local municipalities to come up with alternative plans. If you recall, last summer there were 4 potential NHL expansion application requests from the Seattle area. It is possible that one or more of those groups have been waiting to see how the Sodo arena plans played out to determine their next move?

I went on Q13 a couple weeks ago to discuss options and scenarios for an NHL first scenario outside Sodo. Additionally, Art Theil wrote a similar perspective on sportspressNW.

NHL Expansion Process

It is true that no Seattle group submitted an expansion application last June and that Bettman has been consistent in his messaging that Seattle will not be part of this expansion process. It is unclear how Seattle could get back in the discussion. The NHL is expected to announce expansion to Las Vegas and Las Vegas only which would create a league of 31 teams, 16 in the Eastern conference and 15 in the Western conference. This would give Seattle (or any other city) time to get their collective…stuff together for an arena plan and apply to the NHL to be that 32nd team. Wishful thinking, maybe but certainly a possibility.

Seattle is not part of the expansion process..but we knew that already

In Gary Bettman’s annual state of the league address he said in no uncertain terms that Seattle will not be getting a team in the current expansion process. This was known and bettman_gary640the league message has been consistent from the very  beginning. This expansion process is about Quebec and Las Vegas, not Seattle. There have been several stories that bubble up from time to time that speculate that the league is dragging its feet on expansion while waiting on Seattle, but every time a story comes up the league denies it.

If you are with me and rooting for a team in Seattle, then our hope would be that the NHL chooses to expand by one team in this round of expansion, which would open the door for another team down the road. Several media outlets are “predicting” (aka speculating) that the scenario could play out with Las Vegas landing a franchise and Quebec City being left out in the cold as a relocation option. The Canadian Dollar is just too weak for an expansion team in Quebec City. It wasn’t too long ago when the NHL was assisting all Canadian teams outside of Montreal and Toronto.

What does this all mean for Seattle? Not much. Nothing has materially changed since the 3 potential ownership groups in Seattle missed the NHL expansion application deadline last July. It appears that there are still groups trying to get an NHL team in Seattle, but we’ve heard very little from any of the camps, so it is not clear if any option will emerge anytime soon.

Bettman’s comments yesterday have changed nothing since Seattle missed the deadline and was consistent with the grades I handed out for the year. I know this will be a great market for the NHL and I am optimistic that the Greater Seattle Area will land an NHL screen-shot-2015-06-03-at-91053-amteam eventually. The biggest hurdle to landing a team has always been an arena. Without a clear arena solution in either SoDo, Tukwila, Bellevue, or who knows where else, this remains the major blocker for even the optimist in me. This news cycle can be brutal on us at times, but NHL-to-Seattle remains committed for the long haul and is not going away anytime soon. We continue to provide fair and balanced assessments of our situation as the NHL-to-Seattle community continues to grow and thrive.