Wally Walker: Seattle Arena proposal not about winners and losers

Oct 25, 2016, 3:31 PM | Updated: Oct 26, 2016, 3:50 pm

Wally Walker...

Wally Walker explains there are no winners or losers in forgoing public funding to build a new arena in Seattle. (AP)


Now that the group of investors hoping to bring the Sonics back to Seattle has pledged to privately fund a new sports arena, KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson wants to know what the critics of the plan will be upset about. One of the investors, Wally Walker, told Dori says he has no idea.

“I’ve been surprised by the objections before this, Dori, so I’m the wrong person to ask because I thought the (Memorandum of Understanding) deal was fantastic for the region and I thought we mitigated some of the issues,” he said.

710 ESPN hosts, the web react to Seattle Arena proposal

Walker, a former Sonics player and executive, is part of an investment team that includes Pete and Erik Nordstrom and is headlined by entrepreneur Chris Hansen. They’ve offered to forgo public financing to build a sports arena in SoDo. Walker explained that the new proposal involves private financing of a new arena instead of the city and county issuing  about $200 million in bond financing, which would have been paid off through revenues from the building. He said the fact that tax dollars were never to be involved “somehow got lost in translation” but that the bond financing element will now be eliminated. Walker said the investors still believe it will cost about $500 million to build the arena.

Conditions of the offer include that the city agrees to vacate a one-block stretch of Occidental Avenue, waive the city’s admissions tax and have an adjustment made to the city’s B&O tax for revenue generated out of town.

Sonics fans have had a sometimes tumultuous relationship with Walker over the years. Despite overseeing teams that finished with a combined 562-390 regular-season record, Walker was heavily criticized for some of the moves made during his tenure as the Sonics president/CEO and GM. He resigned in 2006. He later became a key player in attempts to save the team from moving to Oklahoma City and in bringing the NBA back to the city.

There have been plenty of broken hearts over the years related to bringing the NBA back to Emerald City, especially after the Seattle City Council voted 5-4 to reject a proposal to vacate Occidental Avenue, which was needed to build the stadium. Dori asked if Walker believes critics of the old deal will claim victory for standing up to the investors and forcing them to cover the extra $200 million with private money.

“If that’s the response, Dori, that’s fantastic and we couldn’t care less if somebody claims victory as long as we get this thing done,” Walker said. “That’s all it’s ever been about and that’s the perfect outcome.”

You can hear the full conversation below, but here are other highlights from the conversation:

The latest on getting an NBA or NHL team: “We’ve got to get the order correct and that got lost, I think, in the street vacation discussion. There were some people and politicians that said if we just had a team committed we’d approve the street vacation or financing. It’s never worked that way and it never will. You’ve got to have a plan and a pathway to get an arena that is suitable for the NHL and NBA before a team or league are going to come here so we have to get this done as the first step. Then, when that’s in place, and they know there is a viable economic home for their teams, we’ll get the teams. There is no guarantees, there are no promises but there is a lot of interest and there is a lot of smoke – I would say a little more on the NHL side right now than on the NBA side but it’s all subject to change quickly and we can’t not be ready. We have to have a solution in place to be ready when the opportunity arises.”

Vulnerability of any existing NBA teams: “We don’t know and not our call. All we are working on is what we can control, and that is, we can’t control much of anything we’ve learned, but we can get an arena financing plan that we think works. We can tell a story like we are talking about here today, we hope we get the street vacation, we already have the environmental impact statements have already been done for that site, it’s already zoned. It’s pretty close to being ready to go once a team/league looks at it and says we want to be in Seattle, and why wouldn’t they?”

On the original Memorandum of Understanding being good for the city and county in terms of financing. “That deal was fine but here we are four years later, the MOU is gonna expire and we need to move forward and remove the obstacle, at least the perception, that there was public money involved.”

On still needing Occidental Avenue: “The space does not work for an arena. There’s not room because the buildings are narrow, so to have the almost seven acres require for the arena itself, that one block of Occidental (is needed). And for people who claim that there is a lot of traffic and it creates a traffic problem, they need to go down there. There’s not much traffic on that.”

On critics saying Occidental is a gift: “Oh, there is no gift involved. The city will be paid and that’s negotiation but they will get cash for that street vacation.”

On money going to pay for the Lander Street Overpass: “It’s not up to us but the money paid for the Occidental street vacation could be applied to get the Lander Overpass completed, which also would help the Port and the traffic in general.”

Initial response to revised proposal: “I’ve been stunned. … I just didn’t anticipate this and the biggest data point is my college-aged son actually sent me an outgoing text without responding to me because he saw the story. That never happens.”

Crediting Hansen: “He’s a great guy, he’s been steadfast and, of course, most of the money — I’m a partner, as are Pete and Eric, but Chris has really taken most of the risk here so he deserves a ton of credit.”

Correction: The Sonics’ combined record during Wally Walker’s tenure as an exec was incorrect in a previous version of this story. We apologize for the error.

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