Sports with Art Thiel
5:00 am
Fri March 21, 2014

NBA — Not NHL — First For Seattle's Proposed Arena Project

After last year’s failed bid to bring the NBA back to Seattle, there has been a lot of talk lately about professional hockey coming to town.

An arena proposed for Seattle’s Sodo district would be built to accommodate both sports. But KPLU sports commentator Art Thiel has learned that NBA must come first.

NHL Interest Not Enough To Change Arena Agreement

National Hockey League officials recently called Seattle a "good market" for expansion. And, Art says, last June, prospective owners of a Seattle franchise visited the city to check out KeyArena.

"They talked with the mayor, talked with city council and said, ‘Yes, we can use KeyArena as a temporary home and maybe long-term.’ So that’s what the impetus was for the conversation about the NHL coming here first,” Art said.

Seattle and King County officials signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in 2012 with arena developer Chris Hansen. In it, a proposed multi-sport arena would be built in five years, and an NBA team would be secured first

Risky Business

In a recent KPLU commentary about the heightened interest in professional hockey returning to Seattle, Art brought up the prospect of the MOU being amended to allow an NHL team to be first. Art posed the question to Seattle City Council President Tim Burgess this week and found out that's not the case.

“I asked him if the NHL could be first and he said no. He said that the NHL revenues are insufficient to maintain the debt service on the proposed building," Art said. "Somehow the speculation about the NHL’s interest in Seattle as a marketplace was followed with the presumption that they could come in first. Burgess told me, ‘No, the NHL cannot come first without a rewrite of the MOU.' And there’s no one interested, so far, in rewriting the MOU."

Art says Hansen has not approached the city and, if he did, he would be told there's too much risk in having the NHL come first since the NHL’s revenues aren't similar to the NBA’s revenues.

No Action On NBA Front

With Hansen's failed attempt last year to buy the Sacramento Kings and move them to Seattle, it looks like the city will have to wait a few years until NBA teams break even and expansion is considered. New NBA commissioner Adam Silver says expansion is not on their immediate horizon.

“Taking a team from another market is not something that Chris Hansen wants to go through again," Art said. “One of the consequences of not getting the Kings is a loss of momentum on this project. I think a lot of people assumed that the NHL could help fill the void by being first.”

Other Issue In The Way

Art says Hansen’s project needs the momentum of a team, but, unfortunately, the effort hasn't even gotten past the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) issue.

"It’s a state-mandated evaluation of the Sodo site relative to two sites at Seattle Center," he said. "That was supposed to be delivered in March, but delays in getting the information to the company doing the EIS now mean that won’t happen until September at the earliest. And that faces some legal challenges by opponents of the Sodo location.

"There’s a lot that must happen before NBA or NHL teams are going to be interested in coming here. So, a long road remains ahead.”

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You can find Art Thiel’s work at Sportspress Northwest and Crosscut.com.