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O’Neil: No plausible scenario for NHL or NBA to return to KeyArena

(File, Associated Press)
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The Seattle Times has reported that Seattle city officials knowingly brushed off the feasibility of bringing an NHL or NBA team to a remodeled KeyArena. Another long-time Seattle media member counters that it’s unlikely that taxpayers or developers would want to pay for a renovation anyway.

710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny O’Neil believes both stories are missing one major component of the debate.

“Whether or not KeyArena can be retrofit to fit NBA or NHL standards doesn’t really matter at all unless you can find someone who’s willing to buy a team from one of those leagues and then plant it here in a retrofitted KeyArena,” he told Seattle’s Morning News. “I think this is a debate about a moot point, essentially.”

Related: Ron: It’s time to start over with the KeyArena, Seattle Center

The Seattle Times reported Sunday about documents showing that Seattle officials knew of an engineering consultant’s finding that KeyArena could be remodeled to meet NBA and NHL standards. That information came before an environmental statement rejected that alternative in favor of a more costly arena in SoDo, according to The Times. Meanwhile, former Seattle PI columnist Art Thiel contends that the only major player in the arena deal is investor Chris Hansen and he has no interest in a remodeled stadium.

O’Neil says the reason a KeyArena remodel isn’t realistic is that Seattle would need someone who owns one of those teams in either the NBA or NHL to sell those leagues on that arena.

“And I don’t see that happening,” O’Neil said. “The only reason Chris Hansen has stepped forward and come up with the most feasible plan, or the one that actually has some money behind it right now, is because what he can develop around it in SoDo with those properties.”

“There’s not going be an NBA team or an NHL team that ends up playing in KeyArena in the next 15 years,” O’Neil added. “I can’t see any scenario where that actually happens.”

While the talk among the media might appear encouraging, O’Neil doesn’t believe there’s anything cooking on the NBA front, though an NHL team could be slightly closer to a possibility.

“I think if there was a building, that was suitable, that you essentially gave a building to a prospective NHL owner, you could see an NHL team here,” he said. “The NBA is much further off. The person who had the most financial backing, Steve Ballmer, went and bought a team that’s in LA, he owns the Clippers now. Chris Hansen has alienated the NBA, and maybe in the past couple years that’s improved, but I don’t see that being something that’s on the horizon and the NBA hasn’t made any moves towards expanding. In fact, I think they kind of like having the threat of having Seattle there to scare other municipalities into giving them suitable modern-day sports arenas.”

KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross says the talks appear to be an attempt at warming up the city to a possible NHL team without an NBA franchise.

“Which would require changing the memorandum, and as far as I can tell, the numbers don’t work out,” Ross said. “I worry about mission creep here, because the promise originally was the NBA team, the full Megillah, and now you’re hearing more and more talk that, well, maybe just an NHL team would be enough.”

O’Neil agrees with Ross, saying he thinks “trial balloons” are being floated in that direction to see if the city would bite on an NHL-only proposal.

“What you’re seeing is groups that would like to own a team seeing how much they can get out of the city for a new building,” O’Neil said. “Whether you call it mission creep or trial balloons, that’s exactly what is going on. I don’t think that will happen but you could conceivably see someone who has hooks into an NHL team saying, ‘OK, what can you do for me in terms of a building here in Seattle?'”

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