Seattle Arena Group Offers To Forgo Public Financing

The Seattle investment group led by Chris Hansen has offered to privately fund a new sports arena in the city’s SoDo neighborhood, forgoing public financing, reports Chris Daniels of KING 5 News. In a letter submitted to Seattle’s mayor, the King County Executive, and Seattle’s city council members, Hansen’s group says it’s willing to build a new arena “at no cost to the City or the County.”

As Daniels details, the arena group is also willing to cover a funding gap to build an overpass over Lander Street, though the offer would be conditional on the city vacating a one-block stretch of Occidental Avenue and agreeing to a few tax credits. Within the letter, which was signed by Hansen, Wally Walker, and Pete and Erik Nordstrom, the group notes that “economic landscape has changed” since it made its initial proposal that called for about $200MM in public bonds.

“The recession is behind us and we are deep into this new economic cycle,” the group said in its letter. “Interest rates have declined and the NBA has completed its new national television contract, creating more financial certainty in the industry. … These considerations lead us to suggest a new proposal.”

Although Seattle’s city council voted against the previous arena proposal from Hansen’s group by a 5-4 margin, the new proposal is described as a “game-changer” by city council president Bruce Harrell. When the city voted down the previous proposal, there was some concern about the fact that the NBA had made no promises to Seattle regarding expansion, meaning the arena project would have moved forward using public funds without being assured of landing a major professional sports team. However, if the arena is funded using only private funds, the city may more willing to get on board without any guarantees from the NBA or NHL, since the private group would be assuming the risk.

“In order for us to reconsider we urged them to remove public financing from the project, and they’ve done that, so the ball is back in our court,” Seattle city council member Tim Burgess said to Daniels after receiving the letter.

There have been whispers that the NBA may consider expansion in the not-so-distant future, though there’s still plenty of skepticism that team owners would want to reduce their share of the league’s revenue pie. It may not be a coincidence that the push from Hansen, who recently bought more land in the SoDo neighborhood, comes as the league and the players’ union are negotiating a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. A new CBA deal could allow for expansion to be weighed more seriously, and Seattle would likely move to the front of the line if the city approves the construction of a new NBA-ready arena.

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