Thiel: Seattle Arena Saga 'Far From Over'

Jun 9, 2017

People who live near Seattle Center and sports fans throughout the region may be wondering what happens next, now that Mayor Ed Murray has selected a proposal for the renovation of KeyArena.

KNKX sports commentator Art Thiel told 88.5's Kirsten Kendrick the arena saga is far from over.

'Just A Step'

"It's a step in the process," Thiel said. "There have been many steps before and there are many steps yet to go.

"What happened Wednesday was Mayor Murray and the winning bidder, the Oak View Group and its CEO Tim Leiweke, wanted to make this thing seem bigger and more done than it actually is.

"In fact, what happens now is that Murray's recommendation on the winning bid goes to the City Council. And the City Council will negotiate with Oak View Group and Leiweke on the terms and conditions of an eventual agreement.

"The problem is that the rival bidder, Seattle Partners, dropped out of this [on Sunday], saying that they were not treated fairly in the process, there was no transparency and they were suspicious of Leiweke's financial package.

"So, it was in light of that controversy that the City of Seattle was very excited to get, at least, this step done. But they tried to make it seem bigger than it was 'cause it's only a step."

What Does SoDo Arena Developer Think?

Thiel participated in the latest Civic Cocktail Wednesday night along with SoDo arena developer Chris Hansen, among others. Civic Cocktail is presented by Seattle Channel, Seattle CityClub and Crosscut. Thiel asked Hansen about his project's status.

"Hansen was resolute," Thiel said. "He was not lamenting his situation. He will continue to advocate for his arena. He says, 'We've got the best site' in SoDo, which is an industrial area and a stadium area and not a residential area as Seattle Center is.

"And he also thinks he's got a better offering because there is no third party operation in Hansen's plan.

"Oak View Group is a third party in the KeyArena proposal, meaning that there will be pro sports teams and the city will own the building and the grounds and hire Oak View to manage. And that doesn't sit well with a lot of pro sports teams.

"[Hansen] thinks that he's still in the game because nothing's been decided yet."

Vote Still Needed on SoDo Arena Proposal

Another issue that's not decided is whether the City Council will vacate Occidental Avenue, which Hansen needs for his project.

"He will get, I think, a hearing in September in which he will pitch a revised proposal, which has no public money in it and fewer tax givebacks than the Leiweke proposal," Thiel continued.

"So, Hansen is out there serving as a counterpoint if things get out of hand in the negotiations with Leiweke."

Leiweke Serious About Hockey

To show he is serious about bringing a team to Seattle soon, Leiweke this week introduced two major power brokers to help. Oak View Group says it intends to pursue an NHL team in the short term and an NBA team down the road.

"He is partnering with Jerry Bruckeimer, the mastermind behind the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' series and many, many other big blockbuster action films, and a billionaire investment banker by the name of David Bonderman, who's a part owner of the Boston Celtics and a University of Washington grad," Thiel said.

"But the ownership of an NHL team is at least four years away. Again, they tried to make this portion of the ongoing saga bigger than it is by including hockey."

Murray 'Looking For Success'

With Mayor Murray not running for re-election, Thiel said he is in a hurry to create something lasting before he leaves office.

"The upshot is that he is looking for success. And there's nothing that speaks to success of a politician like a big, shiny building.

"This is going to be Mayor Murray's tribute to his tenure, if he can get behind this building.

"He doesn't know sports; he's not a big sports fan. But he knows a 'Golden Goose' when he sees it. It remains to be seen whether the City Council agrees."

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