Arena Developer Chris Hansen On Why He Chose SoDo And What Happens If It's KeyArena

Feb 24, 2017

Developer Chris Hansen is talking publicly for the first time in nearly two years about his plans for a sports arena in Seattle’s SoDo district. This is happening as the city requests proposals to redevelop KeyArena and as Hansen's agreement with the city and county is set to expire in November.

Knkx sports commentator Art Thiel talked to 88.5’s Kirsten Kendrick about his recent one-on-one interview with Hansen.

KeyArena Analyzed

Thiel said Hansen analyzed KeyArena before he bought land in SoDo.

"He said that it was all analysis, not gut, and he talked to architects, other employees, former team owners to try to really understand what could happen at KeyArena. He concluded a couple of very obvious things.

"One is that traffic is going to be bad around Seattle Center. Even though the city has invested a lot of money in road improvements, the Mercer Street situation has not improved because of growth in Queen Anne and South Lake Union.

"So, he's trying to figure where people can get in and get out and what's going to happen with parking. He said both of those are big problems. And he said that there's no plan to get mass transportation [transit] into Seattle Center anytime soon.

"He also mentioned the business operations of an arena there," Thiel continued. "The city will own the land and own the building and it will be operated by a third party: either Anschutz Entertainment Group [AEG] or Oak View Group, which are bidding to be the builder of a remodeled Key.

"He said that most owners in most sports want to control the building and the revenue streams, which will not be possible. Neither of those two groups can be owners of a team, according to NBA and NHL bylaws, because they were already invested in other teams.

"And, if they have to keep the roof [if landmark status is granted] it's going to be the smallest footprint of any NBA arena of less than 300,000 square feet."

Can Hansen Afford To Go All Private?

Thiel said he asked Hansen about the change in his proposal to remove any public financing.

"I asked him directly if he had the resources. And he said that when these things happen, it's typically a group of people that will come forward, often at the last minute. 

"He explained why he hasn't got another investor like [former partner] Steve Ballmer out there. He said he does not want to get a partner in here and subject him to scrutiny until he gets an okay to build an arena. And that hasn't happened yet."

What Happens Next?

"The mayor has requested proposals be delivered by mid-April. And he and, I assume, the council will deliberate and make a decision by June 30," Thiel said.

"Chris Hansen contends that it's possible to green-light his request of a vacation of Occidental Avenue S. [which was denied last year - he's asking again] while they deliberate because a team could become available in the four, five, six years it's going to take if they were to commit to a KeyArena deal.

"What happens if a team could be relocated or expansion happens while the arena is still being dealt with? He spent five years. How is this going to happen more quickly for KeyArena? And the answer is, it can't.

"And that's why he thinks he can get the partnerships together and he can act more quickly than any proposal that the city will have about the Key."

What If It's KeyArena?

Thiel also asked Hansen what he would do if the city decides to go with a KeyArena proposal.

"He said he's willing to partner with the winner of the bid process to make something happen. But it has to make business sense and he doesn't think that's possible."

You can find Art Thiel's work at Sportspress Northwest and Crosscut.com.