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Friday, February 10, 2012 - Page updated at 09:00 p.m.
Council members get briefing on arena proposal, minus details
By Lynn Thompson and Steve Miletich
Seattle Times staff reporters
A New Jersey sports consultant advising Seattle officials about a potential deal for a new arena met privately with several City Council members over the past few days, sharing financing ideas that include a wholly owned broadcast network, such as ones run by the New York Yankees in baseball and Texas Longhorns in college football.
In meetings Wednesday and Thursday, Carl Hirsh, who was hired by Mayor Mike McGinn in July, told council members the wealthy San Francisco hedge-fund manager who wants to build a new arena is seeking to identify possible revenue streams to finance the project.
Hirsh offered broad outlines but few details as part of an effort to update council members on negotiations from which they have largely been excluded.
Revenue to build a Seattle arena and to cover the costs of acquiring NBA and NHL teams could come from admission taxes from events at the new facility, as well as the development of a lucrative television network, council members said.
"They're proposing that revenue from their activities go to support their operations," said Councilmember Nick Licata, who in the past has been a leading critic of taxpayer funding for stadium construction.
The tone behind the effort to build an arena has intensified in recent days, as new details emerged about serious talks between McGinn's aides and hedge-fund manager Christopher Hansen, and as Sacramento moves toward a March 1 NBA deadline to produce a viable plan for a new arena or risk losing the Kings franchise.
McGinn, who has been working with Seattle native Hansen for eight months, has said no new taxes would be used to build a new arena, and that the investors must make a substantial contribution.
But Licata said he remained skeptical that no public funds would be involved.
"There's no free lunch. I'm looking for the cost of the tab, but we won't see that for some time," Licata said after his briefing by Hirsh on Thursday.
Councilmember Jean Godden, who was briefed Wednesday, said Hirsh "had a lot of facts and figures" but wasn't able to provide them to the council.
Godden said the city might be asked to finance construction bonds for the project. Her concern, she said, is that any bonding not exceed the city's debt limit and not harm its AAA bond rating, which allows it to borrow money at lower interest rates.
She said she's also concerned about the impact to traffic around the stadium district, particularly the effect a new stadium would have on Safeco Field, where the Mariners play, and on CenturyLink Field, the home of the Seahawks.
"We have good partners in the two other stadiums. Suppose we have three events simultaneously?" Godden asked.
Most City Council members only learned of the proposed arena deal when The Seattle Times published the first details in December.
"It still puckers me a bit when we have to learn everything from the newspaper," Godden said Thursday.
Godden noted that the City Council will have to approve any deal that directs tax money to the arena or authorizes a construction bond.
Councilmember Bruce Harrell, a former University of Washington linebacker and sports booster, said he believes the deal has several things going for it.
Hansen seems to have a passion for basketball, something previous owners of the Seattle Sonics did not all possess, Harrell said.
In addition, Hansen has purchased real estate south of Safeco Field within the city's stadium district, so zoning issues should be minimal, Harrell said.
Additionally, he said, the city has learned from the mistakes of losing the Sonics in 2008 to Oklahoma City.
Harrell said it will be up to Seattle politicians to "sell the vision" to the public and to "market the heck" out of the new teams should a deal go forward.
He sounded the most upbeat about the prospects.
"I think it's going to come together," he said.
Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or email@example.com
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