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Originally published April 5, 2012 at 8:02 PM | Page modified April 6, 2012 at 11:21 AM

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Chris Hansen takes high road as Mariners raise red flags over proposed arena

Arena investor's response to Mariners' protest over traffic and parking issues? "We want to be friends."

Seattle Times staff columnist

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Just win, baby? For the Mariners, the chant has become, "Just whine, baby."

The Mariners' orchestrated objections to the anticipated traffic issues that would come with the construction of a new arena in the Sodo District are contentious and obstructionist.

And despite their protestations to the contrary, the Mariners are worried about the competition that a new arena will bring to the area, not the congestion. They're more afraid of hoops and hockey than ingress and egress. Trust me.

In a two-day media onslaught designed to get ahead of the optimistic findings of the Arena Review Panel, the Mariners' message Tuesday and Wednesday was simple: "Not in our backyard."

You would have thought investor Chris Hansen was planning to build a penitentiary, not an arena, in Sodo.

At lunch Thursday, Hansen refused to get into a public slugfest with the Mariners. He told me he was "taking the high road" in this debate.

"I've always been open to having a discussion," said Hansen, who has had one introductory breakfast meeting with Mariners president Chuck Armstrong and CEO Howard Lincoln. "Any time, we'd love to have a discussion about traffic. We'd love to sit down and talk about it. That's always been the case. We want to be friends."

Apparently the Mariners finally figured out the magnitude of their public-relations blunder Thursday. In a statement released in the afternoon, they sounded downright neighborly.

It's as if the Mariners drove into Sodo, got caught in a traffic jam and made a U-turn back up First.

"We are happy to hear the news of a feasibility study of traffic and parking in the Sodo area," the Thursday statement said. "We are very supportive of this process and we look forward to being involved. We have a lot of experience down here because we have lived it every day for over 12 years. We look forward to participating in the study, offering our expertise to help find a solution."

That's helpful. That's hopeful.

Hansen agrees there would be traffic congestion on those rare times the Mariners would have conflicting home dates with an NBA or NHL team.

But let's say there is a Sonics game in the afternoon, with 18,000 people at the arena, followed by a Mariners game with 20,000 at Safeco. That roughly equals the attendance at a Sounders game across the street at CenturyLink Field.

Somehow people have been able to "ingress" and "egress" the area when the Sounders and Mariners have shared a play date.

Hansen likes to compare the possible traffic problems predicted for a new arena in Seattle to the concerns people had in San Francisco when the Giants built their urban stadium. He said people figured out how to get in and out of there, and he believes they will do the same in Sodo.

"My general approach is: Yeah, there's likely to be a slight more of a traffic problem," he said, dipping fries into his tartar sauce. "Hopefully we can alleviate as much as we can of that. But the traffic problem will be because we have a basketball team in town and it's successful.

"I think people will tolerate a little bit of traffic for the ability to go to concerts and see professional basketball and see professional hockey."

Compared with the experience of four years ago when Seattle lost the Sonics, the level of government support for this plan has been shockingly high.

Hansen has presented a proposal that is hard to shoot holes in.

"I think there's a certain recognition from the city that this is going to happen somewhere else if it doesn't happen here," Hansen said. "It would be a lost opportunity if it ended up in Bellevue or Renton or anywhere outside the city limits."

Still, as hopeful as it might have looked six weeks ago, it doesn't appear there will be NBA basketball in Seattle next year.

The NHL's Phoenix Coyotes are a slim possibility for this city. There are several out-of-town ownership groups exploring the idea of buying the league-owned Coyotes and moving them here.

The who and the when of an NBA team's move to Seattle is uncertain. The reality keeps changing. But there is little doubt the league wants to, and eventually will, return.

Sacramento's new arena deal is fraying.

The owners and the city are bickering over costs. The odds of it succeeding now probably are less than 50-50.

However, that doesn't mean the Kings will be available to Seattle.

A more likely scenario is the NBA strongly suggesting to the Maloof brothers, the franchise's owners, that they sell the Kings to some white-knight savior.

Unless something goes terribly wrong in the next few weeks, it appears the Kings, at least, have bought themselves another year in Sacramento.

The league's sale of the New Orleans Hornets also seems to have unraveled. The team already has missed its attendance goal, so its arena lease is void. A key date is June 5, when Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's proposal to aid the Hornets goes to the legislature.

The Bucks are a longshot to leave Milwaukee, and the attendance-challenged Memphis Grizzlies have no shot to leave because of their punitive arena lease agreement.

"People are excited," Hansen said, "but they probably expect it to happen sooner than it might. But I think something will happen in the next five years."

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

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