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Originally published April 5, 2012 at 9:38 PM | Page modified April 5, 2012 at 10:52 PM

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McGinn, arena investor counter critics of Sodo site

The San Francisco hedge-fund manager who wants to build an NBA arena in Sodo is paying for a $50,000 traffic and parking study to help answer critics who say the arena threatens blue-collar jobs in Seattle's industrial area.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The San Francisco hedge-fund manager who wants to build an NBA arena in Sodo is paying for a $50,000 traffic and parking study to help answer critics who say the arena threatens blue-collar jobs in Seattle's industrial area.

The investor, Chris Hansen, appeared Thursday with Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and King County Executive Dow Constantine in Hansen's first news conference since details of his proposal were released in February. On Wednesday, the Arena Advisory Panel approved the proposal, calling it "promising."

Hansen, 44, said he already has several yet-unnamed local investors interested in joining him to bring an NBA franchise to Seattle and help build a $490 million, 18,000-seat arena for professional basketball and hockey games. Hansen wants taxpayers to pitch in $200 million in construction bonds, which he says would be repaid by revenue from the arena.

If a large investment is needed beyond that to alleviate traffic congestion in the area — an overpass, for example — the deal would need more scrutiny.

"We look at our deal holistically," Hansen said. "There's a certain amount of capital investment we're willing to put in this area."

As details of his investment and proposal continued to trickle out this week, the first organized opposition to the arena surfaced. The Mariners expressed concern about scheduling and traffic, and the Port of Seattle and others in the local maritime industry said adding another sports venue to Seattle's industrial core threatens thousands of blue-collar jobs.

Port Commissioner Bill Bryant compared the arena to building "a wall between I-5 and I-90 and the Port."

"What kind of city do we want?" he said. "Do we want a city that accommodates only the new, emerging sectors, or do we want a city which cherishes our maritime industrial base?"

Hansen shied away from answering broad questions about Seattle's economy, but he said he is committed to the site he selected in Sodo.

McGinn, too, believes Sodo is a good fit for the new arena. It's already zoned for a stadium, and transit access and nearby parking make it accessible.

"One hundred percent, there's issues with our site. Yes. There's issues with every site," Hansen said at a meeting of The Seattle Times editorial board Thursday afternoon. "I can't manufacture a site out of thin air with no issues on it."

Hansen grew up here and has fond memories of the Sonics from his childhood. That's initially why he wanted to buy a team, he said. But Thursday afternoon, Hansen revealed some of the financial reasoning behind his decision to invest in bringing the NBA back to Seattle.

The economics of owning sports franchises are changing, he said, so that even if attendance slumps, television contracts, concessions and other fixed revenue all but guarantee almost three-quarters of annual income.

He said it was an investment he could afford without partners.

"I could probably do the whole thing myself," he said, "but I wouldn't."

Hansen also said Thursday the deal could go forward without a hockey team, and that it was "highly likely" the arena could be built with only a basketball team signed and hopes for a hockey team later.

Hansen would not disclose the names of investors he's working with. He said "a lot of people" are interested, and that he has "several local partners that would like to be a part of our basketball/ arena efforts," and three or four people thinking about buying a hockey team. He expects to announce his investment team sometime in June.

He also acknowledged critics Thursday. "I'm not here to say that we have all the answers to address everyone's concerns," he said.

In the end, he said, if he invests millions in studies and property and it doesn't work out, he would walk away from the deal.

Hansen said he had studied other sites in the city and believes the Sodo one is best. Critics are complaining about traffic problems that exist without his new arena, he said. And every city should expect some encroachment of new development on industrial zones.

"To the extent that we're accelerating that process a little bit, hopefully that's a good thing," he said.

Constantine said addressing transportation concerns is key to the deal. "Freight mobility has to be as much of a priority as the movement of people," he said.

McGinn said Seattle is unique because of the industrial zone so near downtown. "For this city, that means we always have to be weighing and balancing these objectives," he said.

Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or eheffter@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @EmilyHeffter.

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