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October 26, 2016

Hansen says he'll self-fund new arena

Journal staff reporter

Image courtesy HOK [enlarge]
HOK designed the 700,000-square-foot multisport arena for a site at 1700 First Ave. S.

Sonics booster Chris Hansen has spent over $122 million so far to buy about 13 acres for a sports arena in SoDo, and now he says he will forgo public financing for the project.

In a Tuesday letter to Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine, Hansen and his partners said they no longer need the $200 million in bond-backed financing they had been seeking for the $490 million project. That financing was part of a 2012 memorandum of understanding with the city and county.

The MOU will expire in November 2017 if Hansen can't secure an NBA franchise to replace the SuperSonics, which were sold and moved to Oklahoma City in 2008.

HOK designed the 700,000-square-foot multisport arena for a site at 1700 First Ave. S., between South Massachusetts and South Holgate streets.

By potentially self-funding the arena, Hansen basically escapes the MOU deadline, giving himself more time to find a team. The NBA previously said it has no current plans to expand the league.

Hansen and partners are still requesting that the city vacate a portion of Occidental Avenue South, a proposal that was rejected by the Seattle City Council in May. Hansen's group is also requesting admission tax breaks and B&O tax adjustments for the stadium. Those tax abatements would still be a public subsidy.

Yet in a concession to the council and SoDo industrial interests, Hansen said, “We have identified other traffic and freight mobility improvements in SoDo to which we will direct contributions. Further, we will agree, following the street vacation approval, to commit to the future payment of compensation for the vacated street to the City's financing package for the Lander Street Overpass.”

The city hopes to begin construction on the two-year, $140 million Lander Street project in 2018. It's presently about two-thirds funded.

In effect, Hansen is sweetening the stadium deal with the city. But how much those tax breaks would be worth, and what percentage he'd pay for the traffic measures and overpass, would be points of future negotiation.

In a statement, County Executive Constantine seemed receptive to the proposal, saying, “Chris Hansen today demonstrated his continued commitment to building an arena, and to take advantage of an improving economy. His efforts will strengthen our ability to compete for an NBA team. We won't stop until we bring the Sonics home.”

Mayor Murray did not have an immediate comment.

The Hansen letter was also signed by Wally Walker, Peter Nordstrom and Erik Nordstrom.