Latest On Seattle’s Quest For An NBA Franchise

For much of the past half decade, a group of investors led by Chris Hansen has sought ways to build an arena in Seattle that could house an NBA team and possibly an NHL club as well. The group, however, has faced resistance, most recently from a city council that refused to grant it access to a city street necessary for construction in the Sodo District.

On Thursday, an Associated Press report broke news that Hansen’s group would also be willing to help rebuild and modernize KeyArena as a venue for concerts, after the construction on the new Sodo facility had been completed, that is.

From 1967 until 2008, KeyArena was home to the NBA’s SuperSonics and the building currently remains on a 74-acre plot in downtown as a multipurpose facility and the home of Seattle’s WNBA club.

Despite the fact that Hansen’s group is aggressively pursuing a franchise – they’ve already pivoted from seeking to use public money to privately financing the project – their plans of building a facility near those of the Seahawks’ and Mariners’ facilities would require the purchase of a portion of Occidental Avenue South.

As recently as May of 2016, however, Seattle city council voted against such an acquisition 5-4, some councilmembers steadfast against the idea of vacating a prominent, industrial city street in the name of supposed “gentrification.”

If the proposal to rebuild KeyArena was intended as an olive branch for city officials, it wasn’t taken as such. Almost immediately after issuing their proposal, Seattle’s Office of Economic Development shot them down, referring to a formal request for proposals that was held earlier in 2017.

If Hansen’s group wanted to modernize KeyArena, the office suggested, they should have formally proposed their plans when the city was requesting them. As things stand, a Los Angeles-based company already has a finalized draft to renovate KeyArena for $564MM with the intention of housing NBA and NHL teams there.

What does this mean for hoops fans hoping for another basketball franchise in the Pacific Northwest? Not much, directly at least.

In April of 2016, NBA commissioner Adam Silver told Baker that a “shovel ready arena” wouldn’t hasten the league’s meticulous expansion process. More recently though, Silver told C.J. McCollum of the Players Tribune (yes, that one) in July 2017 that the league would inevitably start looking at growth of franchises.

Seattle will no doubt be on a short list of cities we’ll look at,” Silver told him.

Whether that hypothetical franchise suits up in a renovated version of KeyArena or somewhere in the middle of an industrial district slowly enveloped by sports facilities remains to be seen.

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6 thoughts on “Latest On Seattle’s Quest For An NBA Franchise

  1. x%sure

    The “gentrification” link is a good read but I’m doubtful that is the right word. Other reasons were given for the denial.

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    • Austin Kent

      You raise a good point but that’s actually a direct quote from one of the councilmembers that voted No.

      You’re right that there certainly were other elements at play – the loss of union jobs in an industrial area, for example – but I do think it’s relevant that this is a part of the narrative that those opposing the project are submitting.

      I’m sure somebody could – if they haven’t already – write a book about all the dynamics, political and otherwise, at play in the bid to bring the NBA back to Seattle.

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      • x%sure

        Yes that was reported right; I shortened my post too much.
        Most precisely “gentrification” refers to changes in residential neighborhoods but it doesn’t sound like Occidental Ave. is residential. Some people like to expand that definition to any sort of displacement for political reasons and maybe that’s just how this councilwoman gets fired up enough to vote against money. But this is a site for speculating how the Cavs are going to get a worthy center. Before the Celts do.

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  2. Great article and break down of the situation in Seattle. Thanks !!

    It seems like even the best-case scenario is 8 to 10 years away for a franchise in Seattle.

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  3. Sadaharu Aaron

    As a citizen of Seattle, and life-long Sonics fan, I’m saddened by the process of bringing the Sonics back. Personally I don’t care if they renovate the KeyArena, I just want whatever will convince the NBA to undoubtedly make Seattle their next destination.

    However, I don’t understand the City of Seattle (government) and Seattle Mayor’s stance that it’s “too late” to consider Hansen’s recent proposal. Hansen is offering private funds ($100M) to renovate a city asset, and you won’t look at it? OVG with their amazing proposal is still seeking public bonds and is unwilling to contribute money to address potential/likely traffic concerns in the area around KeyArena. The job of a City Council is to consider all options that will best benefit the citizens of the city, so this is clear negligence here by them.

    Unless Ballmer moves the Clips up to Seattle, I don’t see Seattle getting a team in the near future. Such a shame as this is still a basketball town…

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