By Brendan O'Brien and Eric M. Johnson
SEATTLE (Reuters) - Seattle's city council on Monday narrowly rejected a proposal that would pave the way for a new sports arena, dimming the hopes for the NBA to return to the city after the beloved SuperSonics moved away in 2008.
The council voted 4-5 against a plan that involved closing a city street and selling land to billionaire Chris Hansen, who hopes to build an 19,000-seat arena that could attract NHL and NBA franchises to Seattle, according to city officials.
"Today’s City Council vote was disappointing but we don’t believe it is the end of the road in our quest to bring the NBA and NHL back to Seattle," the Seattle hedge fund manager said in a statement.
According to local media, opposition to the plan stemmed from concerns on how a new arena would effect freight traffic at nearby Port of Seattle and that there is no assurance that the NBA would place a team in Seattle in the future.
Port of Seattle Commission President John Creighton said in a statement that the port supports bringing the Sonics back to Seattle and evaluating renovations to the KeyArena, where the team played for most of its four decades in existence.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said in a statement that he remains committed to the project but the vote "makes it less likely that the NBA will return to the city of Seattle."
Hansen's investment group, the city and King County reached an agreement in 2012 that included a $200 million cap on public investment that would be paid back through revenue generated by the proposed arena. The entire project is expected to cost $490 million, according to the investment group.
To the dismay of a loyal SuperSonic fan base in Seattle, the city lost the team to Oklahoma City in 2008, where the team was renamed the Thunder, after the owner faulted city officials for failing to produce a plan to build a new arena.
"I'm sorry, it's over. Sonics or the NBA are never coming back in Seattle," said fan Shaun Overstreet on Facebook after the vote.
(Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee and Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; editing by Dominic Evans)