By Jonathan Kaminsky
OLYMPIA, Washington (Reuters) - The Seattle City Council on Monday voted 6-2 in favor of an arena financing deal with hedge fund manager and aspiring NBA franchise owner Chris Hansen that aims to lure the NBA back to the city.
The Pacific Northwest city lost the Seattle SuperSonics to Oklahoma City in 2008, where the team was renamed the Thunder, after the owner faulted city officials for not coming up with a plan to build a new arena.
The team's departure after four decades in Seattle angered basketball fans in the city, and officials are trying to bring back the National Basketball Association to town.
"This is about a can-do spirit, looking to the future and grabbing the opportunities that are being presented to our city," said Councilman Tim Burgess, who voted in favor of the financing deal.
The arena deal builds on a memorandum of understanding struck in May to require an outlay of up to $200 million in public bonds to help pay for the $490 million project.
That agreement was struck between hedge fund manager Chris Hansen, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and King County Executive Dow Constantine.
The public bonds would be repaid by taxes and rent payments generated from the arena.
"This may set a new bar for deals that cities strike with pro sports teams," said Seattle City Council President Sally J. Clark, who voted in favor of the agreement.
The two council members voting against the deal acknowledged that their colleagues had extracted relatively favorable terms from Hansen and his partners but said that it was not enough.
"This revised agreement may prevent the most problematic outcomes," said Councilman Richard Conlin. "That does not mean that we will wind up benefiting from it or that it is a good use of the city's time, resources or financial capacity."
The King County Council still needs to sign off on the deal before Hansen can begin shopping for a team. In a statement, King County Councilman Joe McDermott said the county body was likely to do so soon.
"I am certain we will stand together with a final in the next few weeks," McDermott said.
Under the agreement, Seattle officials would create a $40 million transportation fund to help offset traffic congestion in the area that could worsen with the new arena.
The new terms also include at least $2 million to spruce up the SuperSonics' old home, Key Arena, up to $5 million to help pay the rent for the WNBA's Seattle Storm should they wind up playing in the new arena, and a personal financial guarantee from Hansen on paying off the arena debt.
Hansen could also be required to buy the new arena for $200 million after 30 years.
The deal is contingent on an environmental assessment of the project that will include an exploration of alternate sites.
Hansen has spent millions of dollars acquiring land near downtown for the proposed arena close to the stadiums of the Seattle Mariners baseball team and the NFL's Seattle Seahawks.
Hansen's plan calls for having teams from both the NBA and the National Hockey League play in the new arena, but ground could be broken on the project for an NBA team alone.
"This is a magical day and a long time coming," said Kris Brannon, one of a handful of diehard green- and yellow-clad SuperSonics fans that cheered and hugged in the City Council chambers after the votes were tallied.
The NBA franchise most often linked in media reports with a possible move to Seattle is the Sacramento Kings. The team previously expressed an interest in moving to Anaheim in southern California.
(Editing by Tim Gaynor and Mohammad Zargham)
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