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Originally published February 16, 2012 at 6:59 PM | Page modified February 16, 2012 at 9:38 PM

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Seattle fans can get excited now, this arena deal looks solid

The Sodo arena proposal by Christopher Hansen and others is smart, creative and full of public protections.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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This was a day to celebrate. As I see it, a new arena is going to get built in Sodo. New teams are coming to town. The Sonics are returning and the NHL is on the horizon.

You could feel the optimism and the energy in the first-floor meeting room at Seattle's City Hall on Thursday afternoon.

Sure, you can hang on to your worry beads if you must. As King County Executive Dow Constantine cautioned at the unveiling of the proposal of Chris Hansen's group to build a half-billion-dollar arena and bring hoops and hockey teams to Seattle:

"This isn't Game 7. This is the tipoff of the first game of the preseason. This is a start."

But this is much more than that. This isn't just the start. This proposal has been nearly a year in the making, and Hansen and his fellow investors wouldn't be going public if they didn't think the possibilities for an arena and two new teams in town were real.

This feels like a deal that will get done. It isn't too good to be true. It's just true.

"I'm pretty excited. I like the way they're doing it," said Hall of Famer and former Sonics guard and coach Lenny Wilkens, who is co-chair of a panel that has been formed to review Hansen's proposal. "They haven't made a lot of noise. We're not running off half-cocked. The mayor has been talking with Chris for a while, and I know Chris has been talking to the NBA. I know that. He's been talking with the NBA for a while."

The last time we gathered at City Hall to hear about the future of basketball in Seattle, then-mayor Greg Nickels looked like Joe Frazier in the final seconds of the "Thrilla in Manila."

He was punched out and beaten up and prepared to admit that he was surrendering in his fight with the NBA to keep the Sonics in Seattle.

On that summer day in 2008, Nickels tried to make the loss of the team seem palatable. It didn't work. The Sonics left for Oklahoma City, and the future of the NBA in this town looked as bleak as a Calvin Booth jump shot.

Since then there have been rumors and false hopes and lame plans floated, but nothing serious, nothing tangible, nothing realistic.

Until Thursday.

The feeling in City Hall was more pep rally than news conference.

The room was ringed by fans wearing old Sonics green-and-gold jerseys, jackets and hats. When Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and Constantine walked in, the room erupted in applause as if they were Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp.

"It's nice to see some Sonics green in the room," McGinn said, and added, "There has been some excitement in the air recently."

This proposal by Hansen and others is smart, creative and full of public protections. There are practically no risks to the city or county. In this economic and political climate, it is the only kind of deal that can work.

Hansen's group is proposing to spend $290 million, and the public funds would be capped at $200 million.

Read my lips, there will be no new taxes. The $200 million would come from rent payments on the new building and other revenue streams that wouldn't exist if an arena didn't exist.

It would be publicly painless.

"We have a chance to do something special," Constantine said.

And that's the point.

If this proposal is approved, it will create jobs. It will be a shot in the arm for a city that has been hammered by the recession.

Another generation of parents and kids will get the chances many of us had to see the teams and the stars and to have memories from nights that will last forever.

Construction wouldn't start until a team was committed to coming here. Quietly but persistently, talks are ongoing.

"There are pathways to obtaining a team," McGinn said. "(Hansen) is not committing all of this time and money unless he thinks his prospects are good."

Political leaders let us down in 2008. Now the climate is more progressive.

"The culture has certainly changed," said Adam Brown, producer of the documentary "Sonicsgate."

"It seems that everyone wants to be part of a solution. It seems like the City Council is doing somewhat of a 180 from their position four or five years ago. Now they are recognizing sports as a positive economic and cultural benefit to the community. I'm excited."

Go ahead, get excited.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists

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