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Chris Hansen, Wally Walker clear up what SODO arena project’s role is in Seattle NBA effort

Chris Hansen's SODO arena project is moving forward in a push to get a Seattle NBA team. (AP)

The Oak View Group has broken ground on the new arena at the KeyArena site, the NHL will take the ice there in 2021, and there’s the chance that the NBA could join at some point to play in the same Seattle Center spot where the Sonics spent the majority of their 40 seasons in the region.

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Knowing all of that, it may have been a surprise when the SODO arena project headed by Chris Hansen and Wally Walker sent a letter to Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan on Feb. 1 expressing its commitment to help bring the Sonics back to Seattle. So how does the Sonics Arena group fit into the city’s effort to bring the NBA back?

Hansen and Walker joined 710 ESPN Seattle’s Bob, Groz and Tom on Friday and cleared the air on why they have continued to push for an arena on land Hansen has purchased near the Seahawks’ CenturyLink Field and Mariners’ T-Mobile Park.

The pair stressed that having an alternative arena option, or an “insurance policy for the city” as it was termed in the letter to Durkan, gives Seattle the best chance to sway the NBA to grant the city a new franchise.

“We just want a team back in Seattle,” Hansen said. “If there’s a team playing at KeyArena, I will have my courtside tickets or third row tickets or whatever I have, and I’ll be the first one in line to buy them, and I’ll be here in my Sonic jersey cheering on the team. … We’re not building the arena (in SODO) unless we have a team. If we have a team, it did not work at KeyArena for one reason or another. It’s not like we’re gonna build this building and then say, ‘OK, now we’re gonna go bid against them for an NBA team.’ That’s not what’s gonna happen. We’re going to sit back, and if it doesn’t work at KeyArena, if there’s an ownership group – ours or us teaming with somebody else or some prospective ownership group that wants to come out of the blue and bid some ungodly number for an NBA team – and they can’t make the economics work at KeyArena and they end up here, that’s what this is for.”

Walker added that the trend in the NBA has been for teams to own their own arenas, which is an option the 100 percent privately-financed SODO building would provide.

“What we’re trying to point out as much as anything (is) hockey, Seattle Center, all great, but that may not be an NBA solution with the trend towards the NBA owning and controlling their own buildings, so we want to make sure there’s an option for an owner that direction,” said the former Sonics player and front office executive. “… It’s unfinished business. The way the team left here wasn’t right, it’s been too long, we don’t have any control about getting it back, but we gotta stick it out until it is finished. Again, if that’s at Seattle Center, great, then that is finished business. But we want to make sure there’s a good option the way the trend in the NBA is moving.”

Here are a few more points Hansen and Walker touched upon during their in-studio interview with Bob, Groz and Tom.

Hansen’s relationship with the NBA

There has been speculation that Hansen may not have not made friends with the NBA’s brass during his thwarted attempt to buy the Sacramento Kings and move them to Seattle in 2013 – an endeavor that cost him $30 million in a non-refundable deposit to the team’s then owners, the Maloof family. Hansen said if that were the case, he wouldn’t continue to play such a large role in trying to bring back the Sonics.

“I think there’s certain people that are spreading that in the local market,” Hansen said about the idea that the NBA has a problem with him. “I would just position this slightly differently. From the best of my knowledge, the NBA has absolutely no issue with us and I think (NBA commissioner) Adam Silver has said so publicly. So I would just take his comments at face value. Wally and I certainly have interactions with other NBA owners that we know fairly well, and I just don’t think there’s any evidence of that.

“I think people have just tried to push that narrative for their own benefit in this market. But this is even more important: my primary objective here is just to get basketball back. If that was the case, I would gladly take a step back. That’s not the purpose of this. We own 100 percent of the land in the city that is zoned for arena. If this was just economics, I would just turn it into office buildings or whatever is the highest, best use, and I wouldn’t be sitting on it after seven or eight years. If the NBA had some issue with me, we have the Nordstroms, we have Wally, we have Russell (Wilson). I would gladly say I don’t need to be a majority owner in this situation, it’s fine. We’re holding this land to bring the Sonics back. That is imperative No. 1 – by far No. 1. Any of Chris Hansen’s personal motivations are like No. 5, 6 or 7 down the list of what’s important.”

Why two new arenas in Seattle would make sense

“People ask a lot about two-arena markets,” Hansen said. “For them to spend that kind of money (last estimated over $800 million for the new Seattle Center arena), both the NHL group and OVG, I would assume that they’re pretty confident that the economics work fine with just music and hockey. They don’t have any assurances for the NBA or any assurances in terms of timing. … What I would say is that we are very sure that the economics work in a (one-team) building in a market as good as Seattle. I think both sides would be pretty comfortable.”

Why the SODO arena is back in the news now

To build the arena on Hansen’s land in SODO, a street vacation of Occidental Avenue will be required. That’s something the Seattle City Council voted down before, but a new proposal was submitted in 2017, which is what Hansen and Walker’s group is seeking to get an answer on now.

“I think we’ve had our street vacation vote pending for two years now,” Hansen said. “… We didn’t push this thing forward while the NHL stuff was going on. We kind of just said, ‘OK, let’s let them finish their deal. Let’s let NHL be awarded to Seattle.’ And we figured we’d follow up afterward. Again, it’s not like we’re introducing something new. You guys do understand this has been stuck in the City’s cogs for a very long time. It’s not like we’re initiating a new proposal. It’s more like, ‘Hey guys, we’ve had this sitting with you for a long time. It’s time to make a decision.’”

Hansen and Walker also talked about Russell Wilson’s involvement with their group (the Seahawks quarterback was one of five signatures on the letter to Durkan), whether or not the SODO arena would be in competition with the Seattle Center arena for concerts, and their relationship with Durkan. You can hear the full interview embedded in this post or download a podcast of it at this link.

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