Seattle arena investor cleared to shop for team

Posted Sep 13, 2012 10:56 PM

SEATTLE (AP) -- Chris Hansen has a ticket to shop.
His list is short: Find an NBA franchise willing to sell and bring professional basketball back to Seattle.
Hansen, the investor trying to build a new arena, said Thursday that the league has been closely watching what's taking place in the Pacific Northwest and a renegotiated memorandum of understanding between Hansen and the city council on the proposed arena goes a long way to easing the league's concerns about Hansen's plan.
"It means a lot to the NBA," Hansen said. "They've been watching very close to what we're doing. I think going in they were very skeptical we would get to this point given our history in Seattle.
"It's a great win for the city with the league."
Hansen spoke at a bar in Seattle's Pioneer Square shortly before an event where he invited fans to come celebrate the agreement announced earlier this week and have their first beer on him.
While the green-and-gold celebration was just getting under way, a short distance away a council committee was voting to advance the renegotiated agreement to the full city council for a vote that is expected to happen Sept. 24. The agreement must receive full approval from the city council and the King County council.
Even some members of the city council showed up at the bar following the committee vote, along with a huge throng of Sonics fans hoping to see the franchise return sooner than later. Hansen cautioned it might not be a quick process and what might be the most difficult task - team acquisition - is just beginning.
Asked if there could be a franchise in Seattle next year, Hansen didn't want to be overly optimistic.
"I think it's conceivable, that would be optimistic and that is not an expectation I would not want to set," he said. "I worry that people are expecting us to get this deal done and it be like magic and a team would be here this year. It's like, `Poof and we've got a deal done and where is our team?' This is a far more difficult process. I think anybody who is intimately familiar with the NBA knows this is a tough next face we have to go through."
The revised deal first leaked late Monday night and was announced by a trio of city councilmembers on Tuesday night. Hansen said his phone erupted when the news leaked and he stayed up until 1 a.m. listening to a Seattle sports radio station take phone calls from excited fans.
Hansen said the demands of the council pushed him and his investors past the point that they were probably prepared to go financially, but they decided it was in the best interest of the community to drop a few more dollars into the agreement.
"In the interest of making this happen and taking a step back and see the big picture it was just really important for us to get this done," Hansen said.
The renegotiated deal was met with praise by fans and city officials, but still skepticism from opponents. On Wednesday, opponents to the arena sent a letter to the city stating their concerns about the re-worked agreement. Among those signing the letter was a representative of the Seattle Mariners' front office, one of the first public statements by the Mariners opposing the deal.
The proposed site of the arena is adjacent to the parking garage across the street from the Mariners' home park, Safeco Field.
Hansen said there have been repeated efforts to reach out to the Mariners along with Seattle's other pro franchises.
"About the only comment I would make is the Seahawks and Sounders have engaged with us and are interested in what we are doing, expressed their concerns and are willing to work with us," Hansen said. "We have made a lot of outreach to the Mariners and they are not interested in having a dialogue. You can't reach a point with people if they're not interested in having the discussion about what it would take to make it happen and make it acceptable for them."
The Mariners released a statement later Thursday saying they are encouraged by the city council's requirement of an environmental impact study and reiterated their belief there are better sites for the arena. Hansen has spent more than $50 million purchasing land for the arena.
"We look forward to participating in the EIS process, sharing our experience, and helping the city and Mr. Hansen reach the best possible decision. This review will only enhance the arena's chances for success; that is everyone's goal," the Mariners said.
The revised deal called for Hansen's group to increase its reserves on the $490 million project that will include $290 million in private investment. Hansen's group will also commit $7 million toward KeyArena and spend $40 million on improving traffic and freight mobility in the area around the stadiums and the nearby Port of Seattle.
"We said we would do our share on the transportation side. We would contribute money, we always said we would try and make it better than it was before," Hansen said. "So I think $40 million, plus what we have to put in for SEPA, we're hopeful other professional sports organizations will benefit from improved pedestrian access and transit connectivity will have a similar point of view as us and help out."