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Originally published March 10, 2012 at 4:28 PM | Page modified March 10, 2012 at 5:04 PM

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Chris Hansen must be agile in his pursuit of arena plan

Hansen won't try to shove his arena proposal down the throat of his hometown. He's willing to be patient. At the same time, he seeks a sense of urgency so Seattle doesn't debate away its chance to make this happen.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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Chris Hansen, the hedge-fund manager with a heart of Sonics green and gold, returned home last week limping and wearing a large knee brace.

Who knew trying to bring the NBA back to Seattle was as hard on the knees as actually playing the game?

In truth, Hansen was injured during a recent family ski trip. He tore the anterior cruciate, medial collateral and lateral collateral ligaments in his right knee. He'll need surgery soon, but with a shy smile, Hansen says he'll be fine. He just won't be as nimble for a while.

He needs to reserve his agility for this arena plan, anyway. Hansen says he hopes to reach an agreement in principle (pending the relocation of an NBA franchise) with the city and county by "late spring, early summer" on his proposed $490 million sports-and-entertainment-arena proposal. Then he'd have the means to do some legitimate lobbying with the NBA.

"We need to have something in place that buys us time to continue to lobby our case to the NBA and to basketball fans around the United States that Seattle deserves to have a basketball team, and from wherever it might come, we should be at the top of the list," he said.

It's an ambitious goal for Hansen, who now lives in San Francisco. On the surface, he has presented a sweet deal, which includes $290 million in private money toward the arena. The rest of the arena money, which would not exceed $200 million, would come from tapping into city and county tax revenue generated by the arena. Hansen's group has made a commitment to cover the project's cost overruns, and once the arena is built, it would be responsible for maintenance of the arena and any revenue shortfalls. The deal is as creative as it gets in professional sports, and it's more enticing than any sports-palace proposal ever made in this city.

Hansen keeps reiterating one word — fair. He knows that after all Seattle went through losing the Sonics, fair must be at the foundation of any plan. So he won't try to shove this proposal down the throat of his hometown. He's willing to be patient. At the same time, he seeks a sense of urgency so Seattle doesn't debate away its chance to make this happen.

Hansen doesn't detail why there's such a need to be so aggressive because, well, common sense can help you figure it out. From fan passion to low interest rates to the political climate, the timing is right. But there's another factor to consider.

The NBA's television contract expires in 2016. As the league plans to pursue the most lucrative deal possible, a return to Seattle, the nation's 12th-largest market, within the next four years would be huge. The NBA has a new collective bargaining agreement, and it'll soon provide great clarity on whether its struggling franchises can actually make money. In theory, the deal is better for teams, but whether it's good enough is to be determined.

Hansen's belief is that some team will need to move, and he wants to be in position to react. He needs an agreement that gives him a large window of time to find a team. He doesn't want a situation in which the city is constantly scrambling to put together a plan every time a team is available, or perceived to be available.

"That will not be viewed positively by the league," Hansen said.

So, can he get his agreement by the summer? I'm skeptical. But this is where Hansen needs his agility. He must be active in trying to solve any potential issues, especially when it comes to traffic congestion and its effect on the Port of Seattle. He must be as transparent as possible, which he has been to this point, but this is especially important when it comes to projecting how much revenue an arena could generate in Sodo. That's always a tricky sell, but he has to sell it.

Fortunately, Hansen understands how this city operates. Now, he must figure out how to earn its trust.

Ultimately, it's going to come down to faith. Hansen's belief he can attract an NBA team is based on faith. He has put together a fine proposal, but for the city to go for it, he must inspire faith.

"One of the things I love about Seattle is we have a very vocal, intellectual citizenship that likes to openly debate things," Hansen said. "I understand there's going to be opposition. There's going to be a lot of people for it. There's going to be some people in the middle trying to make their mind up, and that's the way it should be. It's democracy. And that's the way things have always worked in Seattle, and I'm not going to try to fight that."

No, he's going to try to transcend it.

Bad knee and all, he must be nimble.

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or jbrewer@seattletimes.com

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