Supporters of the effort to build a new arena and bring the NBA back to Seattle say they are confident things will remain on track, even though Mayor Mike McGinn lost his reelection bid.
McGinn was a leading force in crafting the deal to build a new arena with investor Chris Hansen and had strong backing from official Sonics fan groups, who turned out in force to support the mayor throughout the campaign.
“There have been a lot of people that have told me sports fans don’t have influence and don’t vote,” says Brian Robinson, co-founder of Save our Sonics. “We proved that our values matter and people will step up to the table. The last component of it was showing that we can bring out campaign dollars and campaign volunteers and votes, and we did that convincingly in the primary. I’m really proud of the job we’ve done since.”
While it didn’t translate into a victory for McGinn, Robinson says he has received assurances that mayor-elect Ed Murray fully supports building a new arena and landing an NBA team.
“Overall, we feel like he’s going to be a supporter and a guy that we can work with,” Robinson says.
While the arena wasn’t a major issue or talking point during the campaign, Murray spokesman Sandeep Kaushik made clear where he stands in an email to the Sonics Rising blog.
“Ed supports the MOU (memorandum of understanding) that was negotiated by the Council and will work to uphold it as mayor. He wants to make sure we do what is necessary to return NBA basketball (and maybe add NHL hockey) to Seattle.
“Ed has said multiple times — including at the [Peter] Steinbrueck endorsement press conference — that he supports the MOU and sees the arena as an opportunity. He has pledged to work to make sure that both the arena and the maritime and industrial jobs can coexist in SoDo. That is going to take focus and careful management from the next mayor, and Ed will make it a priority that it gets done.”
An environmental review of the arena proposal is underway. But it has slowed after NBA owners voted down Hansen’s bid to buy the Sacramento Kings and move them to Seattle.
Robinson says his group will remain active in campaigning for the arena, especially with the Port of Seattle, longshoremen, and other groups still actively opposing it.
“We have to be strong if we want politicians to remain strong. I do think there are going to be people at Ed Murray’s ear asking him to support the MOU only in the event that some transit upgrades are secure.”
Once the EIS is complete, it will be up to the city’s Design Review Board to approve the arena design or recommend any changes to the building and surrounding infrastructure. The city council would then have to sign off on the final package.
The agreement between Hansen, the city and King County calls for taxpayers to contribute up to $200 million in bonds to help build the arena. The loans would be paid back with tax revenue generated by the arena and its operations.
The deal would have to be amended if the city lands a National Hockey League team before Hansen can secure a new NBA team. Robinson says having Murray in office could actually help make that work easier than McGinn because he has the backing of the entire Seattle City Council.
“At that point, there may be some benefit to having Ed Murray being able to demonstrate his conciliatory approach and work more closely with council than Mayor McGinn may have been able to to tweak and modify and find a way to bring the NHL here prior to the NBA,” says Robinson.
As for Hansen, he’s remained silent and out of the spotlight since the failed effort to buy the Kings. But Robinson insists the investor and his group, which includes Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and members of the Nordstrom family among others, remain fully committed to bringing the NBA back as soon as possible.
“Things are going on behind the scenes. As always, I feel that Hansen and his team are going to abide by the process and perform any mitigation that’s stipulated by the document,” says Robinson.