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AEG official: Queen Anne, KeyArena ‘absolutely’ best spot for NBA, NHL

AEG president of facilities Bob Newman said the developer believes KeyArena has "good bones." (AP)
LISTEN: Bob Newman on AEG bidding on KeyArena

For about the past four years, SoDo has been the hotspot for talks of a new arena to bring the NBA and NHL to Seattle. But Bob Newman, president of facilities at Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), told “Brock and Salk” that times have changed and that Lower Queen Anne is not only a viable option for attracting a professional sports team, but it is also the city’s best option.

“Without a doubt,” Newman said Thursday. “This is, in our opinion, our humble opinion, the best site for an arena in Seattle.”

AEG, which owns and operates arenas and festivals around the world, is among the high-profile development groups expecting to bid on the City of Seattle’s Request for Proposal that was released Wednesday. Brian Surratt, director of Seattle’s Office of Economic Development, told “Brock and Salk” Wednesday that the RFP calls for interested parties to pitch redevelopment of KeyArena into a venue that can host music and sports events, including meeting the minimum standards for NBA and NHL events.

The City said it is open to demolishing KeyArena and starting over but requires the project to be 100 percent privately financed. The RFP asks proposers to submit two plans: One if KeyArena is designated a historic landmark and another to tear down the existing venue and build a new one. The proposals are due by April 12.

AEG is expected to be competing in the RFP against the Oak View development group, which is headed by sports executive Tim Leiweke. Much like when Leiweke spoke with “Brock and Salk” in December, Newman said AEG’s pitch will include a facility that can “absolutely” stand alone even without a commitment from the NBA and NHL. The group recently had success with that tactic by building the T-Mobile Arena, located off the Las Vegas Strip, and then attracting an expansion hockey team. He said KeyArena’s location in the Seattle Center is prime in ways few others in the world can match.

“It’s location on a 70-acre urban park that’s known for sports and entertainment and culture and music and arts,” he said. “That doesn’t exist anywhere in the world. That’s the ambience. You’re capturing something that is truly just Seattle.”

But there are plenty of critics of the Queen Anne site, in part because of how difficult it is to park in the area and its traffic problems. The inability to make KeyArena a viable option for bringing the Sonics back to Seattle is why Chris Hansen’s development group has spent millions of dollars on property in SoDo and has offered to privately fund an arena in that neighborhood.

Newman said he is not concerned about the logistical hurdles in Queen Anne.

“Any project, we have to solve the logistics,” he said. “We have to figure out a great traffic plan, both for today, five years from today and 10 years from today. If that doesn’t happen, the project doesn’t work. So we have to make that part of the solution here.”

When asked for specifics about AEG’s history of finding those traffic solutions, Newman responded: “All of our projects are in urban cores, where we deal with the same questions regarding traffic, residential integration, integration with corporate stakeholders. You have to solve that. And it truly is the same set of sub-issues that you deal with in any city. Whether it’s new arenas in Vegas, LA, Kansas City, Louisville, some of our recent projects.

“… It’s a community effort, it’s a collaboration that solves them. Those that were pulled off successfully, everyone rallied together, put the issues on the table and you can figure it out.”

Another of the major complaints about renovating KeyArena is the idea that it could reach the “minimum standards” for hosting an NBA or NHL team. Newman said AEG, which has ownership in more than a dozen franchises around the world including the Los Angeles Lakers, has plans for a “first-class” arena.

“We can say with some pretty good confidence what it would take to make the team successful both on and off the court,” he said. “The first-class standards, it’s taking care of the athlete, the artist, the fan, the guest amenities, the technology in the building. And that mix is completely different than it was 10 or 15 years ago, and the last renovation of KeyArena was probably perfect for then, but the new arenas today, whether it’s our building in Las Vegas or the new arena in Sacramento, they are completely different than the venues that opened 10 or 15 years ago.”

He said AEG believes KeyArena has “great bones” and could meet the NHL and NBA’s standards without starting from scratch.

“We’ve spent a lot of time and effort; we’ve done our own studies,” he said. “That building can be renovated, can be expanded in the same footprint of the current building while still preserving much of the structure that you don’t need to replace. In the end, what you’re doing is getting a brand new, world-class arena at a fraction of the cost of what it would be to start over.”

Here are other highlights from the conversation:

On timing: “Listen, we’re ready to go tomorrow. The good news is we’ve been in Seattle for many years. We have a couple hundred employees here year round, sometimes it ramps up to a couple thousand with the festivals that we produce in the area and the other festivals that we do. We are ready to jump into full design tomorrow if we were given the green light. The important thing for us is, this project is a go with or without a team. We are very confident that the team will follow once you get the project going. I think that’s been part of the issue here in the past is it’s been a chicken or egg. Let’s take that dilemma out of it. Let’s get the arena solution for this great city fixed and then the team solution will follow.”

On the venue being for both music and sports: “If you look at any of our projects, they are multi-purpose buildings and they are built for sports and entertainment. And if you build it that way, they will come. It is the old line but it will happen. Our most recent project in Las Vegas, as you know, we were building an arena in Vegas regardless of a team affiliation or not. And a few months before it opened, it was announced that an NHL team was coming. And we truly believe that same scenario could play out here in Seattle.”

On not needing huge arenas anymore: “I think intimacy is a large, large piece of it. I think the atmosphere that you can create, and having a great diversity of product in the arena for every person in the community, and that’s something that didn’t exist many years ago.”

Will AEG make a proposal for a full tear down? “Haven’t even contemplated the two scenarios yet. We know one of them is very viable.”

Why wasn’t KeyArena good enough before? “I think times have changed. I honestly think team requirements, league requirements, fan requirements, corporate requirements. I would consider it a new day; it’s a blank canvas, and we should approach it that way.”

What would financing look like? “We haven’t even modeled that yet. The RFP came out yesterday. I think you’re more versed on it than I am at this point … if you look at all of our projects worldwide, there is a way to get the partnership done. You just deal with the resources that are on the table. If the city has limited resources, then you factor that in from the beginning. It’s great that the RFP lays out the game plan and then you develop a project that really meets those expectations.”