Proposal For New Seattle Arena Just Got More Interesting - And Complicated

Oct 27, 2016

The proposal for a new sports arena in Seattle just got more interesting - and more complicated. Knkx sports commentator Art Thiel talked with 88.5's Kirsten Kendrick about what's going on.

Privately-Funded

"In a letter to the mayor, the City Council and King County, developer Chris Hansen has pledged to pay for his new $500-million arena privately. That's a big breakthrough and a change in a game that's very significant," Thiel said.

"That means there will be no opposition to his original plan to get up to $200 million from the city and county for the creation of his Sodo arena.

"But while the funding could be resolved privately, there will still be opposition to the location of the arena because the Port and the Mariners still don't want it in Sodo."

Seattle Center Still In Play

"The second development was that KING 5 reported on Wednesday that the city is considering an arena at Seattle Center," Thiel continued. "Whether that's redeveloping KeyArena or something different, we don't know. 

"It was inspired by a 2015 report by a company called AECOM that said they could fix KeyArena sufficiently for hockey, even though there's great skepticism around that report because there's nothing in there about traffic or parking or all the other problems that have developed in the Lower Queen Anne area in the eight years since the Sonics have left."

Thiel said the city and county currently have a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Hansen regarding a proposed arena in the Sodo area. But that apparently hasn't stopped the city from keeping Seattle Center in play.

"The city has always tried to make the renovation and the improvement of Seattle Center a priority. And they see this as an option if they can get some bids from real developers with a comprehensive plan to do so.

"They're going to try to do it to be ready for the expiration of the old MOU. Because they need to find a private partner - a private builder - to do this project. And they have one in mind.

"AEG is a global company that builds arenas. And they already are operating KeyArena. They know the building. They know the landscape. They're going to be the player in this and the city wants to give AEG an opportunity to do a comprehensive study."

What's Next?

Thiel explained that if a new arena does get built in Seattle it will be done without taxpayer money.

"I don't imagine [Mayor] Ed Murray wants to put on a ballot a question for the public: 'Do you want to pay some money for an arena?' when they've already got a free one offered by Chris Hansen.

"This is going to have to be a private partner joining the city in doing something on public property - the Seattle Center.

"Hansen also has an agenda here. If he can get rid of this original MOU that requires basketball first, he could get a hockey team first. Hockey is much more readily available. They're eager to come to Seattle.

"The NBA is still officially skeptical about coming here with an expansion team for at least the next several years. That could change if the NBA gets a new collective bargaining agreement here in the next few months.

"But, until then, Hansen might have to go 'hockey first.' And the only way he could do that would be to tear up the MOU.

"So, both sides have an agenda to get rid of the MOU but it's a question of whether Chris Hansen will get a fair shot once that's happening."

Update: Late Thursday, Mayor Ed Murray’s office announced that the city will issue a Request For Proposals (RFP) in January to solicit plans from private parties to redevelop KeyArena. The city says two companies are already interested: AEG and The Oak View Group. The mayor’s office says the RFP process may reveal other interested parties as well. 

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