With potential hurdles in Chris Hansen’s SoDo plan, KeyArena renovation is worth considering
Oct 28, 2016, 7:00 AM | Updated: 4:57 pm
I am for a new arena in Seattle.
I am for an NHL team, an NBA team and a state-of-the-art venue for concerts. I believe this is a burgeoning world-class metropolis that I am proud to call home (and plan to for decades to come). To be a city on that level, we require a modern arena. It is that simple.
Except that it isn’t.
Like many of you, I am in favor of building a new arena in SoDo. Chris Hansen and his partners have amassed a significant amount of land in a location that already supports two magnificent facilities. It isn’t perfect. There are traffic concerns, especially when two of those facilities are used at once, but that’s the price of doing business in a major modern metropolis. I’m willing to live with traffic in order to get the arena. And while I understand why the Port of Seattle wants those roads to be empty, plenty of other ports deal with surrounding development. They’ll survive and be just fine.
There are other advantages to SoDo as well. It could help revitalize that neighborhood and continue to improve Pioneer Square. And the light-rail stop is clutch for getting to and from events.
I also like Hansen. He has shown the patience of a saint. He deeply cares about basketball in this city and has risked an obscene amount of money and time on this steep uphill climb. And he has had at least one (if not two) sure things yanked away in tantalizing fashion. I like his vision and I deeply respect him.
Like anyone, he also has his flaws. While certainly wealthy, he doesn’t appear to have the kind of cash on hand it takes to fund what is looking like a $2 billion venture. And he has apparently made some enemies among NBA owners for contributing to the campaign against public funding for the arena in Sacramento. He seems to be lacking guaranteed NBA support and local political muscle. It is my sincere hope that he can find the right investors to partner with and make his proposal all the more viable.
And when I say viable, I don’t mean logical. It’s a logical no-brainer. The Port’s concerns have been largely debunked and he is offering to build the arena without public funds. Unfortunately, politics is rarely about logic. It’s about leverage and deal making and partnerships and favors.
So while his proposal makes a ton of sense, he still needs local political support and the support of enough NBA owners to get the team he needs. Then he needs to find an NHL partner as well.
And so I am also willing to hear what the city is selling on KeyArena.
It sure isn’t perfect either. KeyArena’s “major renovation” was a failure and its foundation was built to keep the NHL away. It has its own traffic problems, and having the city as an owner makes it a nightmare as a landlord.
But remember, my goal (and yours, too, I think) is to get the NHL and NBA here.
And when I heard Tim Leiweke’s name, my ears perked up. Way up. Stated simply, I can’t think of a single person with a better resume for accomplishing all of our goals.
Before getting into sports radio, my first career was in local government in Los Angeles. At the time, Leiweke was heading the Staples Center/L.A. Live project in downtown, which completely revitalized the barren, awful center of the country’s second-largest city. With AEG, he was president of the group that owned the Los Angeles Kings and had a stake in the Lakers. AEG is also an enormous concert-booking company.
After that, he moved to Toronto to run Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, the parent company which owns the Maple Leafs and Raptors. He knows his way around the league offices of both the NBA and the NHL and is known to have allies in both sets of owners. According to The Seattle Times, he has already secured a partnership with Peter Luukko, executive chairman of the Florida Panthers. The Panthers are often considered to be the NHL team most likely to move.
He’s also rumored to be good friends with NBA commissioner Adam Silver, who will obviously play an enormous role in this process.
And finally, his brother is former Seahawks president Tod Leiweke, a man with endless connections in this town, not to mention the most sterling of reputations.
So Tim Leiweke knows how to build arenas, knows politics, knows the NBA and NHL owners, knows the concert-booking world, knows Silver and his brother knows everyone here. He is, on paper, built for this.
In addition to Leiweke’s group, The Times reports that AEG itself has interest in remodeling KeyArena. Remember, AEG is the largest sports ownership group in the world and the second-largest concert promoter. Its interest adds to the legitimacy.
And the NBA – yes, the same NBA that once abandoned KeyArena but also jobbed Hansen at the most critical juncture – seems open to a renovation. Silver said last year that “nothing is a closed deal” and that a modern renovation could make the building seem new.
Of course, the KeyArena option has flaws, too. Major ones. The publicly owned land is a huge complicating factor. The need to go through a request-for-proposals process that wouldn’t start until at least December is problematic as well. And I still have no idea if KeyArena could actually physically be renovated to become the world-class building we all deserve.
But I’m trying to keep my goals in mind. I want the NHL, the NBA and a world-class venue for concerts. I want it all as soon as possible. And I don’t really care whether it happens in SoDo or in Lower Queen Anne. I’ve even offered up the exciting (and ridiculous) possibility of a floating arena near my house on Green Lake!
And because both proposals have huge pluses and minuses, I am open to both. I want to see what happens next on both fronts.
And for the first time in years, I think we are in good shape.
Programming note: Seattle Mayor Ed Murray will join “Brock and Salk” in-studio Tuesday at 8 a.m. to discuss the arena situation.