Fans need to take a chill pill as Seattle seeks NBA, NHL teams
Bring on the critics and cynics because this arena plan — and the plots to get NBA and NHL teams — isn't going to come together quickly.
Seattle Times staff columnist
It has been a week since Chris Hansen's arena proposal went public, and there are no shovels in the ground, no moving trucks from the NBA and NHL rumbling into town and no plans from sports fans to keep Mayor Mike McGinn and King County Executive Dow Constantine in office in perpetuity.
If the initial excitement overtook you, if you're hoping some big news was delayed only because Presidents Day made this a short week, if you've been holding your breath the past seven days, advice — exhale. Do it. Now. Otherwise, you risk turning bluer than a Smurf.
I'm kidding, of course, but for all the emotion this arena talk has stirred this month, the understated yet inevitable reality is that Hansen has merely initiated a process that, if successful (and it's still an "if"), could take a couple of years. There's no easy way in. Hansen could get lucky, but he's prepared to wait a little while. If you recall the messy two-year fiasco that resulted in Clay Bennett escorting the Sonics to Oklahoma City, then imagine the intricacies of trying to lure two teams, from different leagues, while also solving an arena issue that has hovered over the city for nearly a decade.
The NBA's Sacramento Kings and New Orleans Hornets, and the NHL's Phoenix Coyotes, have made strides this week in keeping their teams, and the news serves as an important reminder of what Constantine preached in announcing Hansen's proposal last week.
"This is not Game 7," Constantine warned. "This is the tipoff of the first game of the preseason. This is a set of principles. This is a start."
It's a fantastic start, one that Seattle hasn't seen before from a potential sports owner. Hansen pledged $290 million toward a new arena in Sodo. It's an eye-opening commitment that any city would be foolish to ignore. But he also needs up to $200 million from city and county financing to finish the project, and he got creative in requesting that money come from tapping into tax money that, in theory, would only be generated if an arena existed. It's a solid idea, quite savvy, full of ways to minimize risk for the city and county. If the arena review panel charged with investigating Hansen's plan finds that the proposal is legit, this is as close as it gets to a no-brainer in brainy Seattle.
Still, the debate will carry on for a while because such is the city's nature. And it needs to happen. Seattle lost the Sonics for many reasons, including Howard Schultz's selfishness and neglect in selling to out-of-towners, David Stern's anger, Clay Bennett's disingenuousness and the public's unwillingness to fund yet another playpen for millionaire athletes and their billionaire owners.
But a secondary factor involved a poor KeyArena renovation. Not only did the reconstruction lack the foresight to avoid becoming outdated, but that plan also included a plan to have arena revenues pay off construction debt. Hansen's idea is different, but the fear remains. Seattle can't build something that is so fleeting this time.
This new arena proposal has two fundamental differences in its pay-as-you-go strategy. One, the KeyArena renovation had a 20-year payback timeline, but the Sonics had only a 15-year lease, and Bennett wound up reaching a settlement with the city in 2008 to void the final two years of that lease. In this new arena proposal, there would be a 30-year payback timeline, but the NBA and NHL teams would be required to stay at least 30 years. As you are painfully aware, there are ways around this, but they're attempting to make it as airtight as possible. The other key difference from the KeyArena renovation is that the city and county wouldn't have to cover any shortfalls. If true, the owners would carry all the risk.
Seattle was a good, committed host to the NBA for 41 years, and it still wound up losing the Sonics. This time, the plan must be foolproof.
Bring on the critics, cynics and Mariners transportation directors. Let's stomp around and make sure this thing is sturdy. If it is, you'll be able to enjoy two more pro sports franchises without looking over your shoulder during every timeout.
Seattle's arena mobilization is almost certain to ensure the Kings remain in Sacramento now. That's what Stern wants. All Sacramento needs to do is close the deal on a new arena. Our NBA relocation focus has been on the Kings because they're in the most precarious state, but it's their team to lose. Same goes in Phoenix.
There's no easy way in, but there are plenty of struggling teams in both leagues and if Seattle truly wants to build a sports arena, the NBA and NHL will commit to come at some point. The only questions are the biggest ones: When? And which teams?
The word some don't want to hear: Patience.
Breathe, Smurfs. Breathe.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @Jerry_Brewer
About Jerry Brewer
Jerry Brewer offers a unique perspective on the world of sports.
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