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Russell Wilson, Seattle Arena group make new pitches to Mayor

Chris Hansen's investment group has reportedly revised its proposal for a new Seattle Arena. (AP)

The group hoping to bring a professional basketball and/or hockey team to Seattle is open to being flexible on a few previous sticking points for building a new arena.

A two-page letter dated Thursday from Chris Hansen’s Seattle Arena investment group says they would only vacate a street and build an arena if they acquire an NBA or NHL team, also opening up the possibility of building the complex if only an NHL team is secured. The letter was sent to Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine. It was reportedly signed by Hansen and his fellow investors: Wally Walker, Peter and Erik Nordstrom, and Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.

In October, Hansen’s group offered to privately finance the new sports arena, though it focused on bringing in a new NBA franchise in its letter and did not mention hockey. 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. The street vacation was a major hiccup in May, when the city council voted 5-4 to reject the vacation proposal.

Thursday’s letter asks for the City to tear up the existing Memorandum of Understanding on the SoDo arena, which is set to expire next year, and says that construction of the arena would only begin “until and less and NBA or NHL franchise has been acquired.” The letter states that the group will refile their petition for the Occidental vacation and that it will include “new elements to help address freight mobility concerns. We also support the council’s proposal to devote the payment we would make for the vacated street to the Lander Overpass project to help close the project’s remaining funding gap.”

Here’s another excerpt from the letter:

We believe this proposal makes a good-faith effort to address the concerns expressed by council members and represents the best opportunity to bring a state-of-the-art new professional sports venue to Seattle. In addition to being privately financed with no direct costs to the City or County, the region would benefit from the Arena’s net positive economic impact of between $230 and $286 million a year. Approving the conditional street vacation in no way hampers or interferes with the Key Arena RFP process, but rather puts the city in the best possible position to take advantage of franchise opportunities that could become available.

Wilson, who joined the investment group last month, also wrote a blog post Thursday, explaining the letter and adding that the return of the NBA would also benefit Seattle youth. Here’s an excerpt:

In the letter, we provide details about our commitment to improving freight mobility in the area, and emphasize that the street vacation wouldn’t go into effect until an NBA or NHL team is secured. We also make clear that by approving the conditional street vacation the Seattle City Council will not interfere with the RFP process proposed for Key Arena, but rather put Seattle in the best possible position to take advantage of franchise opportunities that could become available.

One thing not emphasized in the letter, however, is something I know the City Council shares my passion for: How the return of the NBA can benefit Seattle youth, particularly those in traditionally underserved communities.

One thing not emphasized in the letter, however, is something I know the City Council shares my passion for: How the return of the NBA can benefit Seattle youth, particularly those in traditionally underserved communities.
Obviously, I’m a big believer in the power of sports to improve lives. Not only do they teach kids critical lessons like the importance of teamwork and commitment, they also provide much-needed structure and activity outside of school….

Approving the conditional street vacation makes the Arena shovel-ready, and sends a loud message to the NBA and NHL that Seattle is ready and eager for teams. That we want our Sonics back to accompany the Storm, and a hockey team to pick up where the Seattle Metropolitans left off nearly a century ago. All we need is for the Seattle City Council to make this one last nod of approval….

While the SoDo arena is one possibility, the city is still interested in looking at the possibility of revamping KeyArena as the venue for an NBA and NHL franchise. Mayor Ed Murray said he would accept Requests for Proposals on the former Sonics’ home.

Walker, a former Sonics executive, has said in the past that refurbishing KeyArena has been a non-starter for the leagues and that getting assurances from an NBA or NHL team before building a new arena was an impossibility.

Also on Thursday, the Oak View Group named a new Director of Special Projects — Lance Lopes — who will lead a bid to redevelop the KeyArena site. Lopes is the former Vice President and General Counsel for the Green Bay Packers, Senior Vice President and General Counsel for the Seattle Seahawks, Sounders FC and Vice President of Corporate Development for StubHub.

“I am excited to have a leadership role in the effort to maintain the Key Arena location as a vital part of the Seattle entertainment experience. Seattle is a world-class city and the community deserves a world-class arena venue,” Lopes said in a news release. “To be able to work with Tim Leiweke is a privilege. He is one of the true visionaries in the entertainment venue business because he understands better than anyone how to create a special spectator experience.”

“We’ve got to get the order correct and that got lost, I think, in the street vacation discussion,” Walker told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson on Oct. 26. “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.”

What are the NBA/NHL options?

The NHL announced earlier this year that it would be adding an expansion team in Las Vegas — called the Vegas Golden Knights — though Seattle has long been mentioned as being in the mix for a team, so long as there was a viable arena option. The private financing announcement put Seattle back on the map for a second expansion team, according to Yahoo’s Greg Wyshynski.

There are currently no NBA teams on the cusp of leaving their respective cities, but’s David Aldridge wrote in October that he believes the NBA should do right by Seattle and bring the Sonics back as an expansion team. He wrote that, though the league doesn’t need to be watered down any more than it already is, the league is in prime financial condition and that franchises have never been more valuable.

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