Until further notice, there's just one arena plan in play in Seattle area
At this point, Don Levin is just too late to the line to be considered seriously
Seattle Times staff columnist
For all the news coverage and debate that a possible dueling arena proposal inspired last week, it is nothing more than a side note, a tidbit, at this point and not a direct threat to Chris Hansen's fully-developed plan.
There is no arena competition. Not right now, at least. There can't be. The city and county councils have spent 2 ½ months pouring over an intricate agreement between Hansen, Mayor Mike McGinn and King County Executive Dow Constantine to build a $490 million sports and entertainment arena in Sodo. On Monday, the Metropolitan King County Council is poised to amend the agreement and vote on its part of the deal. Now is the time to finish judging the current plan on its own merit instead of batting eyes at the overly flirtatious person across the room.
Chicago businessman Don Levin, a highly successful minor-league hockey owner, emerged late last week and went public with some vague ideas for an arena in Bellevue that would court the NHL and NBA. But he admits to still being perhaps a month away from announcing a complete proposal. Though I enjoyed talking with Levin during a Friday phone interview and think he has the potential to be a good owner of a Seattle-area NHL team, he seems like an investor scurrying to get into the arena conversation simply to buy himself more time and detract from Hansen's efforts.
That's not an acceptable tactic with a vote so near. In fact, anything that doesn't involve probing the financial stability and risk of Hansen's plan or continuing to assess the pluses and minuses of the Sodo location should be considered noise in the background until there is an official yea or nay.
Otherwise, people are playing games and wasting time.
The county council is ready to vote, and if approved, it will be handed to the city council, which could vote on it in mid-August. In his plan, Hansen seeks up to $200 million in public investment, via bonds, that would be repaid by revenue that the arena generates. His agreement asks the city for $120 million and the county for $80 million.
Larry Gossett, the King County Council chairman, expects Hansen's memorandum of understanding and interlocal agreement, which details the terms of the proposal, to receive the majority vote needed from the nine-member body.
When asked why, Gossett said, "Because four Democrats and two Republicans have already looked me in the eye and said, 'I'm for it.' We wouldn't put all of this forward if we didn't think it could pass."
But no council member has declared that intent publicly, so that's an opinion, albeit an informed one. Still, it appears that most of the county council is operating with the mentality of trying to make a deal with Hansen work.
There will be several amendments proposed to the agreement that Hansen reached with McGinn and Constantine. King County Councilmember Bob Ferguson said there's "a flurry of activity going on" this weekend, which he added is typical for a major proposal. Council members have changes to discuss, and they are negotiating with Hansen as their vote nears.
Already included are tweaks that require an independent economic analysis and protections for the team logo and SuperSonics name, which Ferguson has said for several weeks that he wanted. There will be new language about financial security, pedestrian access to the arena, community benefits and a "robust" SEPA review, as Councilmember Joe McDermott, the chairman of the budget committee, termed it.
Ferguson, McDermott and Gossett all said they consider these things to be "workable" with Hansen and emphasized they foresee "no poison pills." There probably will be some unexpected and more contentious suggestions from other council members Monday. But Levin won't be a roadblock.
Asked if Levin's Bellevue plan would have any major sway, Gossett said simply, "Nope."
Levin can't cut line. He says he has been working with Bellevue for 25 months, and he has had ongoing conversations with Hansen for "over a year," but they disagree on the way an arena should be financed and where it should be built, and they're approaching it with different interests. Levin is all about hockey. Hansen is focused on basketball.
"It's not personal," Levin said. "We have different personalities and different life experiences. It doesn't mean that necessity won't be the mother of invention, though."
Levin said he spoke with Hansen on Friday after he went public. Hansen said it was their first conversation in a long time.
"The first time I've heard from Don in several months was Friday just before he went on sports radio," Hansen said. "The timing of it — the last business day before the vote — would seem a little curious. I respect that Don has said he's unaware of the vote, but for somebody who claims to be working on an arena so diligently, I find it odd that he wouldn't be aware."
Unless Hansen fails, Levin is, at best, a backup plan. He says he doesn't mind having to come from behind.
"That's the nature of capitalism," Levin said. "You have competing interests. We want to do it a little bit differently. The market determines which is a better offer. And when it's over, maybe one of us will say, 'OK, I lost. Make me Secretary of State.' "
If all goes as it should, Levin ought to be the one making that concession plea.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or email@example.com.
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