Seattle officials express support for NBA arena plan

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 11, 2012 5:55 PM
Seattle officials express support for NBA arena plan

By Jonathan Kaminsky

(Reuters) - The city of Seattle took a key step on Tuesday toward the goal of bringing the NBA back to town as three City Council members gave their support for an arena financing deal with hedge fund manager and aspiring NBA franchise owner Chris Hansen.

Seattle City Councilman Tim Burgess said he expected the deal to have enough support to win approval when he and the other two council members present the proposal to the full nine-member council as early as Monday. The council had earlier expressed skepticism about the arena plan.

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 failing to produce a plan to build a new arena.

The team's departure after 40 years in Seattle came as a blow to basketball fans in the city, and it has led officials to seek ways to woo back a National Basketball Association team.

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.

"A lot of Sonics fans' hearts were broken when we lost the team," Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn said. "We hope we can keep moving forward and meet that passion that Sonics fans have for bringing the team back to Seattle."

Hansen, the hedge fund manager hoping to bring an NBA team to Seattle, has spent millions of dollars acquiring land near downtown for the proposed arena near the stadiums of the Seattle Mariners baseball team and the NFL's Seattle Seahawks.

The latest agreement for a new sports arena would build on a memorandum of understanding struck in May to require an outlay of $200 million in public bonds to help finance the $490 million arena. That deal was struck between Hansen, McGinn and King County Executive Dow Constantine.

The public bonds would be repaid by taxes and rent payments generated from the arena under the plan.

Under the new deal publicly supported by three members of the City Council, Seattle officials would create a $40 million transportation fund to help offset traffic congestion in the area that could worsen with the new arena, officials said.

The new terms also include $7 million to spruce up the SuperSonics' old home, Key Arena, and a personal financial guarantee from Hansen on paying off the arena debt, officials said. Hansen could also be required to buy the new arena for $200 million after 30 years.

Burgess characterized the agreement as "good for the city" and for taxpayers. "It's certainly good for Sonics fans," he added.

The other two council members supporting the plan are Sally Clark and Mike O'Brien. The plan would require approval of six members to win approval. An indication of whether that many members of the panel support the proposal could come as early as Thursday during a committee meeting.

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, McGinn said.

(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Will Dunham)