Many Seattle sports fans feel as if they were robbed in 2008, but we may have just met our Robin Hood. Hedge fund manager Chris Hansen is bringing the Sonics back to Seattle. And just for good measure, an NHL team too. It’s all part of his $290 million proposal made to the city in February. The city’s input would be capped at $200 million on top of Hansen’s almost $300 million private investment.
Aaron Pickus, Assistant Communications Director at the office of Mayor Mike McGinn pointed out that “no public money will be spent until an NBA and NHL team are committed to Seattle.” Even then, those dollars would materialize solely from arena-generated taxes; rent charged to teams playing at the arena, user fees on tickets, etc. In other words, money that will not exist if the arena is not built.
Mr. Hansen labels the potential of bringing the NBA back to our city “somewhat inevitable… if we can get the deal with the city then it’s a question of when, not if.” Backing this statement is the fact that Hansen already owns the parcels on which the NBA/NHL arena is to be built. The property is in Seattle’s SoDo district, close to the Seahawk’s and Mariner’s stadiums.
So when can we expect to start enjoying the Seattle Sonics versus Oklahoma City Thunder rivalry? To this question, Pickus referred me to an earlier Mayor McGinn quote: “I’m out of the prediction business. I’m not going into the prediction business on this one.”
Hansen and his team are responsible for acquiring the two teams before any ground will be broken in Seattle. This doesn’t mean that we’ll have to wait for construction to be completed for the new teams to compete as Seattle teams, as they will temporarily play at the Key Arena. Hansen has agreed to put enough money into it to make this possible during construction. But this brings up another question amongst many budget-minded Seattleites: what is to become of the old Sonics’ stomping grounds?
“There is more than one realistic path forward,” says Pickus. “Key Arena barely breaks even now. It will present a challenge whether a new arena is built in Seattle, Bellevue or Tacoma. And the Seattle Center Master Plan provides only vague guidance on the future of the Key.”
Pickus offers that the city could repurpose the Key Arena as a small entertainment and community event venue. Mr. Hansen has also apparently expressed interest in running the Key long-term.
“There may be other options,” Pickus admits, “Mr. Hansen has agreed to fund a study to look at both short and long term challenges and opportunities with the Key. We will look to this study and the Seattle Center Advisory Committee to provide guidance on what path to take.”
Chris Hansen currently lives in San Francisco, but grew up here in Seattle. He commonly refers to it as “our community.” It’s been reported that he feels bringing the Sonics back Seattle is his civic duty. This whole situation is, at its core, fairly simple: a young, multi-millionaire sports fanatic that wants his home town to have an NBA team. And it is indeed his intention to name the new Seattle team the Sonics, due to the fact that the old team’s name and records remain in Seattle. Oklahoma City may have made off with our team (and I feel bitterly compelled to mention Durantula), but we still own the 1979 Championship title!
It’s no secret that professional sports contribute positively to the local economy either. The building of a new arena would create many new jobs and millions of dollars in private investment through construction and operations. Pickus adds, “It would also generate tax revenue for the state.”
In my feeble attempt at humor, I proposed the option of just taking the Blazers to Mr. Pickus. He wisely responded with a “…” You’re safe for now Portland.
Thanks to Aaron Pickus for his time and information and to Chris Hansen for his sharing Seattle’s passion for sports.