New downtown arena plan long on hope, short on details
Let's get this out of the way. Former Sonic "Downtown" Fred Brown's proposal to build a privately funded $1 billion basketball and hockey...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Let's get this out of the way.
Former Sonic "Downtown" Fred Brown's proposal to build a privately funded $1 billion basketball and hockey arena with a retractable roof and adjoining exposition center is not an April Fool's joke.
But the plan, announced Tuesday at a Seattle marketing firm called WongDoody, left a lot of unanswered questions about the proposed Emerald City Center.
Brown and his business partner, public-relations executive Dave Bean, acknowledged that they have no land, no team, and aren't sure where they would get all the money to build the arena. The plan is to attract new NBA and NHL expansion franchises, assuming the Sonics leave.
Nevertheless, the pair has formed a partnership called B2 Inc. intent on pursuing the kind of grand facility they believe could become an iconic waterfront symbol of the city, like Sydney's Opera House.
With the repeated failure of publicly funded Sonics arena proposals, Brown and Bean said a fresh approach is warranted.
"I think we all agree that public funding of sports arenas are over, at least in this city. The model is broken. We believe we have a new model," said Bean, senior director of marketing for WongDoody.
They timed their announcement ahead of the NBA Board of Governors meeting later this month, when league owners are to consider Sonics owner Clay Bennett's request to move the team to Oklahoma City.
Bean said the new facility could become Seattle's "grand center of commerce and culture," combining sports with major corporate-sponsored exhibition halls similar to the Epcot Center in Florida.
While they're considering five sites, including Seattle Center and three unspecified locations near Safeco Field, Brown and Bean said they've been eyeing the Port of Seattle's Pier 46 as the ideal location.
But that idea may already be dead. Port officials — who were caught off-guard by Tuesday's announcement — insist they want the pier to remain a major cargo shipping terminal.
Are you kidding?
Port Commissioner Bill Bryant asked a reporter whether the arena proposal was an April Fool's Day prank.
Commission President John Creighton said that while he admires Brown, captain of the 1979 NBA champion Sonics team, as a childhood hero, the Port has no interest in even considering the plan.
"We have invested over $1 billion in our South Seattle seaport terminals and we're very committed to maintaining them," Creighton said.
Hanjin Shipping, a South Korean container-shipping company, has a lease at the pier through 2015 with a 10-year renewal option, Port spokeswoman Charla Skaggs said.
Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels said he welcomes creative ideas to keep professional basketball in Seattle, but added that Pier 46 should retain its industrial use "for the foreseeable future."
In an interview, Nickels said he is still trying to come up with a way to keep alive a proposed $300 million expansion of KeyArena aimed at keeping the Sonics in Seattle. A group of private investors led by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer offered to pay half the cost of that project, but the Legislature last month declined to authorize taxes needed for the public share.
Nickels said he has not found a way to close the funding gap for the KeyArena project. Although his office has considered solutions that include creating special taxing districts, "none of the mechanisms has proved to be workable."
Seattle developer Matt Griffin, one of the other investors in Ballmer's group, said he is pessimistic that a solution will be found before the April 10 deadline the group set to take a firm plan to the NBA. He had no comment on Brown's proposal.
Others have eyed this site
Brown and Bean, who were joined at the news conference by NBA legend Bill Russell, are not the first to covet Pier 46 as a prime spot for an arena as part of an urban redevelopment plan. Developer Frank Stagen pitched a Sonics arena plan for the pier in 2003 but never got any traction.
Brown and Bean said they were confident their model could work, even if they couldn't offer specific answers to many questions posed by reporters Tuesday.
"There needed to be a new plan, a new plan that people could talk about, people could kind of let resonate and take us to the next level," Brown said.
The proposal calls for a 100 percent privately financed arena that could get some of its money by selling stock to the public. Other cash could come from institutional investors and loans from commercial banks. Bean estimated the total project could cost $1 billion to $1.2 billion.
The next step, Bean said, will be to attract investors and conduct feasibility studies on possible sites. Within hours of the news conference, Bean said he received calls from possible investors.
They're also looking for volunteers for a citizens advisory committee.
Bean said he understands the skeptical reaction to a plan with so many obstacles and unknowns. Neither Bean nor Brown has pulled off a project of this size before.
Brown worked as an executive for Seafirst and Bank of America after his basketball career. Bean has been a longtime marketing professional with some sports-related experience, including promotion of the 1990 Goodwill Games and a one-year stint as general manager of the Tacoma Rainiers.
"Neither one of us would have gotten to the point where we jumped off the high board today if we didn't have the very strong belief that what we are talking about is possible," Bean said in an interview.
"We don't have big-time deep pockets, but if we can convince people that do have the money to become investors, then this project does have viability."
Seattle Times Reporter Bob Young contributed to this report.
Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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