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Seattle arena plan now public but is it realistic?

Published: Wednesday, July 29 2015 4:25 a.m. MDT

NBA fan Baldwin Poolio, center, reacts to an announcement by Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and King County executive Dow Constantine about a potential new Seattle NBA and NHL arena on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012, at Seattle City Hall  (seattlepi.com, Joshua Trujillo)  SEATTLE TIMES OUT; MAGAZINES OUT; NO SALES, Associated Press) NBA fan Baldwin Poolio, center, reacts to an announcement by Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and King County executive Dow Constantine about a potential new Seattle NBA and NHL arena on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012, at Seattle City Hall (seattlepi.com, Joshua Trujillo) SEATTLE TIMES OUT; MAGAZINES OUT; NO SALES, Associated Press)

SEATTLE — Those whispers that circulated for months about a possible arena plan that might bring the NBA back to Seattle — and perhaps professional hockey, too — are now replaced by a concrete proposal with a staggering private investment.

The question now is whether the plans unveiled Thursday by wealthy San Francisco businessman and Seattle native Christopher Hansen will ever become a reality.

Hansen's proposal would help heal the scars from the SuperSonics' messy divorce with the city in 2008 that led them to a new home in Oklahoma City, leaving behind more than 40 years of history essentially over an unprofitable arena. But his proposal comes with the condition that no shovels will go into the ground until NBA and NHL franchises are locked in as tenants for the next three decades — not exactly an easy task.

From the fans' perspective, Hansen's proposal to the city and King County is a victory after nearly a year worth of behind-the-scenes work. The proposal features an eye-popping $290 million in private investment just for the building itself, not including the cost to Hansen's investment group for purchasing a new NBA club.

King County Executive Dow Constantine, left, and Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn laugh at a question during a news conference about a stadium proposal, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012, in Seattle. Christopher Hansen is making a $290 million proposal that could be the impetus for a new sports arena, possibly bringing the NBA and NHL to Seattle. All he needs is city and county approval equaling $200 million and the two franchises to make it a reality. Hansen, a hedge-fund manager based in San Francisco and a Seattle native, submitted a proposal to the city on Thursday that calls for $290 million in private investment toward the construction of a new arena that would cost between $450 and $500 million.  (The Seattle Times, Steve Ringman) SEATTLE OUT  USA TODAY OUT  MAGS OUT  NO SALES  TV OUT  MANDATORY CREDIT, Associated Press) King County Executive Dow Constantine, left, and Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn laugh at a question during a news conference about a stadium proposal, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012, in Seattle. Christopher Hansen is making a $290 million proposal that could be the impetus for a new sports arena, possibly bringing the NBA and NHL to Seattle. All he needs is city and county approval equaling $200 million and the two franchises to make it a reality. Hansen, a hedge-fund manager based in San Francisco and a Seattle native, submitted a proposal to the city on Thursday that calls for $290 million in private investment toward the construction of a new arena that would cost between $450 and $500 million. (The Seattle Times, Steve Ringman) SEATTLE OUT USA TODAY OUT MAGS OUT NO SALES TV OUT MANDATORY CREDIT, Associated Press)

On the surface, there appears to be minimal risk to the local municipalities. Their contribution to the project is capped at $200 million and would not include new taxes, but instead would be paid off through taxes and rent collected on the tenants of a gleaming new building. It could spurn additional revitalization in an area that features Safeco Field and CenturyLink Field, but has its eyesores of vacant buildings and drab warehouses.

The public portion of the proposal would come in the form of bonds issued by the city and county to help cover construction costs and would be paid off over the life of the lease signed by the franchises. The arena would be publicly owned. City Councilman Tim Burgess said he and his colleagues would examine the plan "to make sure that our exposure and risk is zero."

"When people say there are no new taxes, that's literally true. But it's not correct to say public money is not involved," Burgess said. "We are being asked to sell bonds and finance part of the arena. That raises questions about our debt limit ... so there's lots of questions. The devil is in the details."

Former Seattle SuperSonics coach Lenny Wilkins applauds during a news conference held by Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012, in Seattle. Christopher Hansen is making a $290 million proposal that could be the impetus for a new sports arena, possibly bringing the NBA and NHL to Seattle. All he needs is city and county approval equaling $200 million and the two franchises to make it a reality. Hansen, a hedge-fund manager based in San Francisco and a Seattle native, submitted a proposal to the city on Thursday that calls for $290 million in private investment toward the construction of a new arena that would cost between $450 and $500 million.  (The Seattle Times, Steve Ringman) SEATTLE OUT  USA TODAY OUT  MAGS OUT  NO SALES  TV OUT  MANDATORY CREDIT, Associated Press) Former Seattle SuperSonics coach Lenny Wilkins applauds during a news conference held by Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012, in Seattle. Christopher Hansen is making a $290 million proposal that could be the impetus for a new sports arena, possibly bringing the NBA and NHL to Seattle. All he needs is city and county approval equaling $200 million and the two franchises to make it a reality. Hansen, a hedge-fund manager based in San Francisco and a Seattle native, submitted a proposal to the city on Thursday that calls for $290 million in private investment toward the construction of a new arena that would cost between $450 and $500 million. (The Seattle Times, Steve Ringman) SEATTLE OUT USA TODAY OUT MAGS OUT NO SALES TV OUT MANDATORY CREDIT, Associated Press)

Approval of the proposal would eventually be needed at both the city and county level. But the months of work by lawyers, arena experts, Hansen's investors and city staff will be for naught unless a franchise is willing to call Seattle its new home.

"My understanding is there are pathways to obtaining a team and (Hansen) is obviously not going to be committing the time and effort he's been committing so far and the potential dollars unless he feels his prospects are good," Seattle mayor Mike McGinn said. "Again, that's his job, not our job. Our job is to make sure we're in a position to respond and provide an answer."

The most obvious target for landing that anchor tenant would be Sacramento, where the city faces a March 1 deadline imposed by the NBA for coming up with a financing plan for a new arena in California's capital city. The lynchpin in Sacramento's arena plan — a proposal to divert and privatize parking revenues to pay for roughly $200 million of the arena project — is tentatively scheduled for a full City Council vote on Feb. 28.

In this Dec. 9, 2011, photo, buildings stand near Safeco Field's parking garage in downtown Seattle. Christopher Hansen submitted a proposal for a new sports arena to the city on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012, that calls for $290 million in private investment, plus the cost of acquiring an NBA franchise, to help construct a facility that would cost between $450 million and $500 million. The arena would be built near the two current stadiums  (The Seattle Times, Dean Rutz) SEATTLE OUT  USA TODAY OUT  MAGS OUT  NO SALES  TV OUT  MANDATORY CREDIT, Associated Press) In this Dec. 9, 2011, photo, buildings stand near Safeco Field's parking garage in downtown Seattle. Christopher Hansen submitted a proposal for a new sports arena to the city on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012, that calls for $290 million in private investment, plus the cost of acquiring an NBA franchise, to help construct a facility that would cost between $450 million and $500 million. The arena would be built near the two current stadiums (The Seattle Times, Dean Rutz) SEATTLE OUT USA TODAY OUT MAGS OUT NO SALES TV OUT MANDATORY CREDIT, Associated Press)

Public documents released by the city of Seattle show that Hansen is closely watching the situation in Sacramento. But if the Kings can get their new arena, then the question is who the next possible target becomes since the NBA has no plans for expansion. New Orleans is currently operated by the NBA, but commissioner David Stern seems determined to find a local owner who will keep the Hornets in Louisiana. Other franchises are struggling but none are serious candidates for relocation.

While getting the NBA is Hansen's focus, part of his charge is finding a partner to bring in an NHL franchise. City officials said Thursday that their financial estimates for how the public investment would be paid off are based on the assumption of having both NBA and NHL teams.

Seattle would be an attractive market for the NHL — commissioner Gary Bettman said as much last month at the All-Star Game — and could face competition for either a relocated or expansion franchise from places such as Quebec City and the push for a second Toronto area franchise.

King County executive Dow Constantine, left, and Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn speak during a news conference on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012, at Seattle City Hall where they announced a possible deal on a new arena for an NBA team and NHL team to be built in Seattle.  (seattlepi.com, Joshua Trujillo)  SEATTLE TIMES OUT; MAGAZINES OUT; NO SALES, Associated Press) King County executive Dow Constantine, left, and Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn speak during a news conference on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012, at Seattle City Hall where they announced a possible deal on a new arena for an NBA team and NHL team to be built in Seattle. (seattlepi.com, Joshua Trujillo) SEATTLE TIMES OUT; MAGAZINES OUT; NO SALES, Associated Press)

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