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Originally published September 10, 2012 at 10:57 PM | Page modified September 11, 2012 at 9:55 PM

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Favorable, innovative arena deal a boon for Seattle

The hardest part of this comeback quest is all but over now. The Seattle City Council has reached an agreement with Hansen on his $490 million arena plan.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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Chris Hansen should never have to buy a beer again in his hometown.

It wouldn't just be a gesture of appreciation for the investor with a heart of Sonics green and gold. It could be a necessity. Considering the dough he's about to put down to build a new Seattle arena and lure an NBA team, he might have to reduce his going-out money.

Then again, looking at all the concessions he made to consummate a deal in Sodo, he probably is now part-owner of all the local suds, anyway.

Whatever the case, will every Sonics-missing fan raise a glass?

The hardest part of this comeback quest is all but over now. The Seattle City Council has reached an agreement with Hansen on his $490 million arena plan. And for once, the city's annoying affinity for process, debate and universal pacification appears to have resulted in a digestible situation for Hansen, the Port of Seattle and all businesses concerned with how even more Sodo congestion will affect their bottom line.

Capitalizing on a clever idea, the City Council negotiated with Hansen to get him to redirect some of the tax revenue generated by the arena — which he's planning to use to repay up to $200 million in bonds he's asking the city and county to float him — to help make road improvements in Sodo. Hansen is now pledging to put $40 million into Sodo traffic mitigation. He's also putting another $7 million into a different fund to improve KeyArena. And the Hansen group, which also includes Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Peter and Erik Nordstrom, still will put $290 million toward building the arena, which is almost 60 percent of the cost.

The original deal was an intriguing and fair one that Mayor Mike McGinn and King County Executive Dow Constantine took seriously and polished before it became public. Now that the City Council has revised it and Hansen has stretched himself even further, this is one of the most favorable and innovative arena deals reached during this modern wave of sports palaces.

It gives Seattle an opportunity to get the NBA back on its own terms, which is only proper given the way the league uprooted the team and moved it to Oklahoma City four years ago after 41 years in the Emerald City.

Hansen is making an even larger investment than he planned, but for the 44-year-old who was raised in Rainier Valley and idolized the Sonics legends of his childhood, this isn't one of the hedge funds he manages from his office in San Francisco. This is personal. Over the past seven months, he has gone from mystery man to magic man, inspiring 6,000 fans to join him at a rally in Occidental Park in June and handling a sometimes-contentious process with great class and pragmatism.

He has taken Seattle from feeling bitter and robbed and devoid of a solution to believing that the NBA will return someday — and bring the NHL along with it.

There are still fine points of the arena plan that we must wait out. A state environmental review is required. When the Metropolitan King County Council amended and approved the agreement on July 30, it also included that an independent economic analysis study must be done before final documents are signed. But those hurdles pale in comparison to getting to this point.

Barring a major snafu, the fun is about to begin. Hansen is about to begin shopping for an NBA team. It could go as quickly as buying the imploding Sacramento Kings, or it could be a prolonged journey that takes four or five years. But as long as the arena deal stays together, it's safe to be giddy on occasion.

Let's put it like this: Now that Seattle truly has its act together, it's not a matter of if the NBA will return. It's a matter of when. The same can be said about the inclusion of the NHL.

The NBA has always said it wanted to be in Seattle if the arena issue could be resolved. NBA commissioner David Stern, one of the villains in the Sonics' departure, doesn't want messing over Seattle on his legacy, and he's expected to retire within the next two years.

Seattle has done its part in this redemption tale. Soon, it'll be time for the NBA to do what's right, provided one of its 30 franchises can't succeed in its current city.

Hansen has been anticipating this part of the process for quite some time. He has a cordial relationship with Stern and the NBA. He still needs to partner with someone interested in owning an NHL team, but that search just became easier.

"We have some really cool ideas about things we can do to show the NBA that Seattle is a city that wants and deserves a team back," Hansen said months ago.

Pressed for information, he smiled and said, "You'll just have to see when we get to that point."

We're there now. Let us see. Let us see.

Raise a glass, but save the really good stuff for later.

This is just the beginning of joy for Sonics fans.

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

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