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Seattle council approves KeyArena deal; NHL meeting this week

LISTEN: Arena deal approval likely today; NHL meeting this week

The Seattle City Council today overwhelmingly approved a $600 million agreement to allow the Oak View Group to redevelop KeyArena, opening the door for an NHL or NBA franchise.

In a 7-1 vote, the council approved a memorandum of understanding  (MOU) between the city and the Oak View Group which will set in motion a blizzard of negotiations and contracts within the agreement such as the environmental and traffic impact studies, construction permitting and the specifics on how mitigation money will be spent. Mayor Jenny Durkan is expected to sign the deal at a news conference on Wednesday at Fisher Plaza.

RELATED: Council committee moves forward on KeyArena MOU

If the project stays on schedule, the first arena event could be held by October 2020.

The deal potentially also resets the table for this week’s National Hockey League Board of Governor’s meeting in Camden, New Jersey. The meeting, scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 7, will be the first, post-arena deal opportunity for league officials to make a clear statement about how the newly approved MOU affects a purported available – and unassigned – NHL expansion franchise. Seattle has been a rumored NHL destination for months

Meanwhile, the group of private investors aiming to build another stadium in Seattle’s SoDo neighborhood said they are still committed to their project.

“Today we remain steadfast in our goal to have the NBA once again playing in Seattle, so we will keep the land we own in Seattle’s Stadium District until that commitment has been made,” the group said in a statement following the council’s vote.

The statement signed by Chris Hansen, Wally Walker, Erik Nordstrom, Pete Nordstrom and Seahawk Russell Wilson explains the group respects the council’s decision, but that they believe their plan “represents the best chance to bring the NBA back to Seattle.” They also argue that having two viable arena options will up Seattle’s chances of getting a new basketball team.

They are asking the council to consider their revised application for a vacation of one-block of Occidental Avenue so they can build their stadium.

RELATED: Seattle mayor picks Oak View Group’s proposal

Tim Leiweke, CEO of the Oak View Group, praised the council decision.  “We feel extremely good about the partnership between the city of Seattle and OVG,” he said in a prepared statement. “While this vote marks another important step in the process, we have work to do.”

It has been rumored that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman recently has been in touch with OVG’s CEO Leiweke about Seattle receiving the franchise if it can lock down a firm commitment from both an ownership group and the city. That appears to be closer than ever with billionaire David Bonderman and movie mogul Jerry Bruckheimer interested in franchise ownership and the deal OVG secured today.

Last July in an interview on NHL radio (3:50 mark), Bettman indicated that he expected a bid from Seattle if an arena deal is reached. In the months that followed, OVG reportedly wanted a firmer commitment from the league to help leverage the MOU negotiations but the league demurred, saying it will move the process along only when an arena deal is reached.

With the first major stage of that process complete, the question remains if the NHL this week will indicate that Seattle is the likely destination for the 32nd NHL franchise.

Regardless, Los Angeles-based Oak View says it wants the arena deal with or without a major sports tenant. Under the existing MOU language, the estimated $600 million arena will operate under a 39-year lease with two, eight-year renewal options. The existing roofline will be preserved but little else as the group plans to gut the structure and dig down another 15 feet to expand the footprint.

OVG has said it will finance and pay for the new arena with a mixture of private money and $70 million in tax breaks given to historical landmarks. (If those tax breaks are not available OVG officials have said the company will cover the additional cost.) Also, it has said it will guarantee that the city will never make less than the $2.4 million in tax revenue the arena currently generates.

Over the time of the lease, OVG has said it will spend $40 million on traffic mitigation in the densely populated uptown neighborhood.

Critics have said that the tax break does amount to a public money and that the traffic mitigation fund won’t come close into solving the problems in the neighborhood which also is slated for an upzone that likely will make it even more crowded.

If and when the permitting and environmental impact process is approved – a process that could take until December 2018 – then construction could begin. OVG has said it would close the arena for two years to complete the process. It also has promised to rehire workers who would lose their jobs during the closure.

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