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NCAA taps KeyArena for March Madness, adding wrinkle to arena debate

Although the future of KeyArena remains in the design phase, that didn’t stop the NCAA from picking it as a host site for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in 2019.

The NCAA announced KeyArena as among the sites to host first- and second-round tournament games, March 22nd and 24th of 2019. KeyArena has played host to March Madness in the past, the last coming for the second- and third-round games in 2015. But the former home of the Sonics, and current court for the Seattle Storm may be in line for an upgrade.

The Oak View Group and Anschutz Entertainment Group explained their proposals to renovate the arena last week, with both pitching a state-of-the-art music venue that would also be sufficient for an NBA and/or NHL team. Both groups had estimated timetables that would put the updated arena past 2019 – OVG estimating an October 2020 finish and AEG saying it would take about 14 months after the start of construction.

Video: Are renovation proposals better than SoDo idea?

The city’s other option is leaving KeyArena as is and putting its support behind entrepreneur Chris Hansen’s Seattle Arena Group, which has proposed to build a new arena in SoDo. The Seattle City Council voted last May against vacating a street needed to build the new arena. Hasen’s group has since changed its proposal, offering to forego public financing to build the new arena.

Mayors talk KeyArena

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray told 710 ESPN Seattle’s “Brock and Salk” in November that he is open to all options and is not pitting arena investors against one another in this process.

The city’s previous mayor, Mike McGinn, announced Monday that he is making another run for the job and spoke with “Brock and Salk” Tuesday about his thoughts on the options.

McGinn said when he was running for mayor in 2009, he worried about public funding because of the recession and was proud to have gone through the SoDo Arena process while protecting the city’s financing.

“I’ve been disappointed, frankly, to see what’s happened after that,” McGinn said. “Now we see that the SoDo Arena proposal is not even borrowing money anymore. Zero money. They’ve sweetened the pot in so many ways and I would love to see them get the street vacation so that they can have an opportunity to get a team if it comes up.”

McGinn called the city council’s vote against the street vacation “a low point” and said his biggest concern is to put the city in a position to move if the opportunity for a professional sports franchise arises.

“If we’re going to do this back and forth, and pit things against each other, the next opportunity might come and go, too,” he said. “So let’s put ourselves in a position to win if the chance comes up.”

With that said, McGinn added that he was encouraged that KeyArena has serious bidders and that he is interested in diving deeper into the financing and traffic impacts. He said his focus is pushing away from any requirement of city money.

“I think we need to be careful about rosy projections on major projects because that’s what people do,” he said. “And then what type of risk will the city have if that doesn’t pan out? Who’s left holding the bag at the end? Those are the hard questions we asked for SoDo, those are the hard questions we need to ask for the KeyArena, too.”