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Key Arena, Sodo at Center of Debate in Seattle

Seattle Sonics

Seattle has two arena proposals to consider, but commitments from the NBA or NHL loom large in deciding whether to renovate Key Arena or build a new venue.

In its ongoing pursuit to attract an NBA and/or NHL franchise, Seattle has two options to consider. Developer Chris Hansen has come forward with an offer to privately finance an arena in Sodo, the section of Seattle that he has previously pitched for a venue. Hansen has continued to buy properties in the area, despite the fact that the Seattle City Council rejected a proposal for that site in May, largely because of traffic concerns caused by the closure of Occidential Avenue South.

Meanwhile, Seattle mayor Ed Murray has suggested floating an RFP for renovations to Key Arena, the former home of the Seattle Supersonics. Two major groups–AEG and Oak View Group–are already expressing an interest in the project, which would overhaul an arena with significant historical value but that leaves much to be desired for major sports leagues.

While a previous report from AECOM indicates that it would take $285 million to bring Key Arena to NBA and NHL standards, Seattle still has to figure out exactly how it will attract a franchise. Hansen is currently engaged in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Seattle and King County that requires him to find a franchise by next November, but that deal would be negated if the arena is built without public funding.

The issue, however, is the commitments of either league, both of which are downplaying expansion talks. More from

The mayor’s pitch is to issue the RFP in January. According to two City Hall sources, that RFP could stay open for a few weeks or months.  The city then would have to discuss the proposals. It could kill any momentum for the mayor to forward a re-submitted street vacation application for the Hansen group, or for the city council to take it up.  Earlier this week, council members suggested the street vacation application could be entertained in either December 2016 or January 2017.

That could all change if the NBA or NHL came calling.

Both responded Friday to KING 5’s request for comment. NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said the league had, “No real reaction. Not anything we are really focused on right now.” In the past, the NHL has scoffed at the idea of a remodeled KeyArena.

The NBA’s spokesperson, Mike Bass, also told KING 5, “Our position remains unchanged. Expansion is not on our agenda right now.”

Meanwhile, there are signs that the NHL has concerns over whether Seattle is ready to embrace hockey. Previous plans have called for Victor Coleman, the head of Hudson Pacific Properties, to own the team in an arena developed by Hansen. Sports executive Tim Leiweke has offered a similar proposal for Key Arena. Having just added Las Vegas as its 31st team, the NHL remains interested in Seattle, but is questioning how to make the numbers work. More from the Las Vegas Review-Journal:

First, they would have to find an ownership group that could afford to pay the $500 million (or more?) expansion fee. Would Coleman be that person? Or Leiweke?

Next, would the arena be suitable for hockey? There’s an obvious pause for concern if Hansen’s proposed arena is built strictly for basketball. If Leiweke were able to transform Key Arena into a suitable NHL facility, perhaps it would satisfy the league’s mandate on a proper and modern facility.

Finally, would the Seattle market support the NHL? Probably, but not before the NBA. And with major pro sports teams in the NFL and Major League Baseball as well as arguably Major League Soccer’s best-supported franchise, would hockey be able to economically sustain itself?

As much as the owners might want to have a 16th Western Conference team to join the Las Vegas expansion franchise and pick up another half a billion dollars, it’s hard to imagine them doing so unless they know there’s a sound financial plan.

Seattle and Hansen both have many details to sort through, regardless of which proposal ultimately moves forward. Vetting out those details is going to crucial to pique the interest of either league.

RELATED STORIES: AEG, Oak View Pursuing Key Arena Renovations: MayorChris Hansen Offers Private Funds for Sodo Arena; Key Arena Could Be Alternative to Sodo; Chris Hansen Purchases Sodo LotDespite Setbacks, Hansen Moves Forward on Seattle Sonics ArenaIs NHL Only Path to Seattle NBA Team? It Appears So; Ballmer: Seattle NBA Team Not Likely in Near Future; Is Quebec City Snub Open Invite for New Seattle NHL Team?;Seattle Rejects Street Closure–and New Arena in Process

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