Chris Hansen still optimistic on chances for new arena in Seattle
By Tim Booth
The Associated Press
SEATTLE – More than five years into efforts to get a new arena built in Seattle, Chris Hansen remains confident that his goal of being the facilitator for getting the NBA and NHL to Seattle will ultimately be realized.
Even if that means dipping even deeper into his pocket to offer up a privately financed facility.
“We view that as a civic obligation to protect that and ensure that we do our part in bringing a team back,” Hansen said. “It was with that mindset, we’re not a for-profit enterprise that is attempting to generate a certain level of return on capital as we look at this project to justify it. We’re like, ‘What can we do just to make this work for the city and hopefully if we do that part, in the really long-term it will work out for us.'”
Hansen spoke with The Associated Press on Thursday, his first public comments in nearly two years about his arena efforts. During that time, the Seattle City Council denied a needed street closure that was part of a proposal that included a public contribution to the arena project. The ‘no’ vote forced Hansen’s group to reevaluate the best way to move forward.
“I was surprised that other people didn’t see it that way but then again that’s what is great about a process like this, is you get to take in everybody’s different opinions and considerations into account and we had an opportunity to de-risk it for the city a little bit more and do a little bit more,” Hansen said. “Things happen for a reason.”
Hansen also decried the reaction disappointed fans had toward the councilmembers after last year’s surprising vote and said his group has a responsibility to “head that off” in the future if another vote goes against his proposal.
“All the misogynistic comments that came out about the councilmembers was just way out of line,” Hansen said. “I think it caught everybody off-guard that was in the process.”
The answer for moving ahead ended up being a privately financed proposal that may ease the concerns of the same city officials.
Hansen said his group, which currently has five public members including Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, will have an equity stake in the arena and a possible NBA franchise.
He also reiterated the group has held discussions with parties interested in bringing the NHL to Seattle, but any group interested in hockey must be willing to pay the cost of the franchise and also have contribute a financial stake in the arena.
“We haven’t attempted to bid on an NHL team. Bidding on an NHL team is their own responsibility,” Hansen said.
Hansen must again go before the same City Council to move his privately proposed project forward since the same street closure that was denied a year ago must still be approved for construction to begin. Hansen has also pledged that no arena construction will begin until a team has been secured. He offered to help pay for transportation improvements in the area of the proposed facility.
Hansen’s group has just resubmitted its plans. The city is also currently looking at a possible renovation of KeyArena, the former home of the Seattle SuperSonics.
The city issued a request for proposals for modernizing the arena in January and they’re due April 12. Two groups — Oak View Group and AEG — have stated they intend to submit proposals for the arena that could include the potential for housing a professional sports franchise.
While supporting the city’s intent to examine options for the city-owned arena, Hansen cautioned that he believes the project at KeyArena could take several years. Hansen said his group fully supports the idea of KeyArena as a music and entertainment venue, but viewing the project as a sports facility could ultimately delay potential opportunities for the NBA or NHL.
“I think if there is the opportunity for the NBA or NHL to expand in the interim, having our project, which is a couple of votes away from being 100 percent shovel-ready, is a lot different prospect to the NBA or the NHL if something is ready to happen now, then sitting back and watching a process that could take a very long time,” Hansen said.