Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Reason for Seattle to Look Forward

Sonics great Gary Payton and his watch reflect on good times with Chris Hansen. (AP Photo)

The Oklahoma City Thunder's NBA Finals appearance must have really stung Chris Hansen. It was already in his plans to lead a group of investors in funding a new sports arena in Seattle, and mayor Mike McGinn submitted an official proposal of financing in May, but talks with the city intensified in June and culminated in a deal with defined financial terms being signed last week.

By most accounts, Hansen seems to be genuine in his approach and reasoning. He is a local product that, as a hedge fund manager, reached billionaire status while working in San Francisco. While there is technically no professional basketball franchise in San Francisco, the Golden State Warriors reside in the Bay Area and appear to be trending up, especially since any backcourt-ballhandling issues should have been resolved with Monta Ellis leaving town and a healthy Andrew Bogut heading into his first training camp with the team this fall.

In this context, Hansen's concessions to the initial plan — taking on more responsibility for cost overruns or, worse, if construction is never completed; purchasing the arena after 30 years of use or paying to raze the arena if it is to be torn down after the same amount of time — are understandable, even with his group already ponying up $290 million of private money to the cause. Hansen cannot be blamed for wanting to bring pro basketball back to a city that felt David Stern's scorn in 2007 as the Zombie Sonics waited to rise from the ground in OKC, with the NBA commissioner using the phrase "too bad" after stating that "if the team moves, there's not going to be another team [in Seattle], not in any conceivable plan that I could envision."

For a city that houses teams in the NFL and MLB, those words were a death knell. So, supposing Hansen's aim is true, there is no blame to be hurled or had.

A Sonics fan mourns. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Though reports that the arena will be entirely self-financing are false Seattle's property owners would incur an additional two or three dollars in taxes each year since the proposed arena would be publicly owned — portions of the funding are required to go toward the improvement of public transportation in the SoDo neighborhood, where the arena would reside alongside the baseball and football stadiums already in place, according to a Slate article that goes in-depth on funding. Slate's reporting also explores the red-tape that may make it a challenge to bring in a new franchise.

Excitement over any prospects attached to this proposal should be tempered, though. Stern stated in February that NBA owners are not overly eager to expand, meaning that a "new" team is probably not in the equation for Seattle. He did mention that it is not unbecoming of a franchise to relocate, and one particular California team could be ready for such a move after being shopped to any prospective buyer.

In total, $800 million of private money would get Seattle a new arena that is expected to be the home of professional basketball and hockey teams; a binding agreement that neither team that plays there can relocate until the city of Seattle's financial investment is repaid in full; refinement of public transportation in a high-traffic district; and half-a-decade-late improvements to KeyArena, the former home of the Supersonics.

I know a little bit about basketball, and a very little bit about the nuances of constructing an arena and the funding necessary to pull off such a feat. That being said, it sounds like Seattle is getting the better end of things.

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