Salk: City Council, Mayor Ed Murray remain major hurdles to Seattle Arena deal

Oct 26, 2016, 12:41 PM
Mayor Ed Murray is reportedly exploring a KeyArena remodel after investors offered to privately fun...
Mayor Ed Murray is reportedly exploring a KeyArena remodel after investors offered to privately fund a new Seattle sports arena. (AP)

While most of the response from Tuesday’s announcement by Chris Hansen’s investment group to forego public funding for a new Seattle Arena was positive, 710 ESPN Seattle’s Mike Salk said Wednesday that Hansen’s pledge is only one piece of the three major hurdles that need to be crossed.

“He still needs a vote from the city council in order to get this done and as of yet that hasn’t happened,” he said. “So, (Hansen) can talk about eliminating the public financing but that wasn’t a major sticking point.”

O’Neil: Hansen shows how serious he is about bringing NBA back

As investment partner Wally Walker explained Tuesday, the team of he, Hansen and Pete and Erik Nordstrom offered to privately build a sports arena in SoDo. Walker explained that the new proposal involves private financing of a new arena instead of the city and county issuing about $200 million in bond financing, which would have been paid off through revenues from the building. Conditions of the offer include that the city agrees to vacate a one-block stretch of Occidental Avenue, waive the city’s admissions tax and have an adjustment made to the city’s B&O tax for revenue generated out of town.

The millionaire investors have many of the permits and backers to move forward on building a new sports arena in SoDo, which would put them in line for a professional NBA or NHL team.

While the good news makes sense from a logical and emotional standpoint, Salk says there needs to be more.

“The head and the heart are cute, but in politics, you better find a way to get the palm greased as well and I don’t think that’s been done yet,” he said. “I don’t think this is getting done any more than I did a couple days ago.”

While the private funding helps, it is only the first of three major hurdles that need to be passed, Salk said. The other two: The city approving the site and vacating a one-block section of Occidental Avenue, which failed in May by a 5-4 vote, and actually securing teams in either or both of the professional leagues that have no current vacancies.

“You can’t just build in the city. Ask any developer,” Salk said. “… Even if you’re financing it yourself you still need city approval if you want to get anything built. And then, at the end, you’re going to need the team and I don’t know that they are any closer to that. Maybe the new (Collective Bargaining Agreement) makes this whole thing possible but the site is nowhere closer to getting solved. The Port is still there; every other stakeholder is still there but especially the Port.”

One other enormously person in that site process: Mayor Ed Murray. On Wednesday, King 5 reported that the mayor’s budget director, Ben Noble, said the mayor’s office is exploring a major renovation of Key Arena, the former home of the Sonics.

“We’ve been approached by more than one legitimate group,” Noble told King 5.

It’s the exact fear Salk had after reading the following statement that the Mayor released on Tuesday:

“The City will review the letter sent by a group of stakeholders, including Chris Hansen, suggesting a revision to the previous SODO arena proposal. We share the goal of bringing the NBA and NHL to Seattle. The City will continue to consider all options to build a new, state of the art arena that will accomplish that goal and that can serve the city for years to come.”

Salk said he read that statement as being “terrible news,” with the line about the city conserving “all options” jumping out the most.

“I read that as let’s take another look at KeyArena because I don’t see the mayor as being truly in support of this deal,” Salk said. “I saw (former Mayor Mike) McGinn as in support of this and when he was, guess what, it passed council. And when Ed Murray was there and didn’t want to support it and didn’t do anything … guess what, nothing happened. Bad news.”

That’s not to say it was all bad news. Salk said he was encouraged by Wally Walker’s comments to “Danny, Dave and Moore” Wednesday about other potential investors that will likely be needed in order to pay for the enormous amount of money that will be needed to pay for the land, arena and possibly purchasing NBA and NHL teams.

“There will be other partners,” Walker said. “There are active discussions and it’s a lot of money. I shouldn’t speak for myself as being the one being able to pay for it, but Chris Hansen really has no ego about who is the owner majority. He’s like the rest of us, we just want to get something done. We’ve got to get the arena done and then we’ll get the teams. There’s a lot of interest in people owning teams and be willing to pay whatever the number is so that is not at the top of my list of concerns.”

Salk noted that although Hansen is wealthy, he doesn’t have the money to front the whole bill and lost some muscle and green when they lost the backing of ex-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who purchased the Clippers in 2014. That Walker is confident that other investors will come forward is a positive.

Still, without Murray being fully on board, Salk will stay skeptical.

“I don’t just mean a little feckless statement of ‘oh yeah, we’re totally in support of an arena.’ I mean actually being on board,” Salk said. “Mayor Murray’s calling card is supposed to be the fact that he is a deal maker. Where was he when the vote was actually being held in front of city council? Where was he in support of getting a deal done then? He couldn’t get it done. If Mayor Murray is actually in support of this, let him speak, let him lead. Let him be the leader of this city that the mayor is supposed to be and actually get this thing through because I can guarantee you, if he is actually in support of this it will get done.”

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Salk: City Council, Mayor Ed Murray remain major hurdles to Seattle Arena deal