The news that the Seattle City Council voted by a 7-1 count in favor of close to $600 million in funding for the renovation of Key Arena, ends a saga that spanned several years revolving around both politics and sports.
That saga involved a few very different proposals, and two big spending groups of business leaders: one led by Chris Hansen, and the other the Oak View Group which boasts Jerry Bruckheimer, among others. The lack of a suitable arena is what drove the Supersonics basketball team to move out of the city in 2008, and it also cost the city a potential slot in the NHL expansion process a couple of years ago.
The vote to approve these renovations to Key Arena casts a great deal of clarity on a situation that was once very fluid in Seattle. The vote comes one day after the MOU between the city and Hansen expired, effectively ending that bid from ever moving forward. The vote also means that the NHL may have an expansion announcement regarding Seattle shortly.
Hansen, as it was noted in my earlier coverage of this topic, spent millions of his own money to obtain land over a period of several years in an attempt to build an arena in the “stadium district” in the southern part of downtown Seattle. That plan also required the land around a roadway to be sold and the road grid to be changed to be able to have adequate space for the arena concept in the proposal.
The Hansen proposal was not popular among several constituency groups and political groups in Seattle. It was opposed by the Port of Seattle because of the proximity to the port and the impact that game/event traffic could have on trucks and port operations. The city politicians also had no intention of selling him the land on Occidental, which became known as the “road abatement” clause in the proposal, which was an unpopular concept from the start. Hansen had a dream to bring the Supersonics back to Seattle, and it is hard not to feel badly for him that his proposal is dead, and the NBA could still be another 4 to 5 years away from coming back to Seattle.
It appears that with the Key Arena renovations, which is at Seattle Center up by the Space Needle, the city officials are banking on the central location as well as public transportation improvements to guide the way to a world class arena in their city. The renovations could be completed by October 2020, and appears that the NHL would be the anchor tenant initially for the newly renovated facility.
The NHL expanding to Seattle makes a great deal of sense because the city fills a void for the league in a region (Pacific Northwest) that is largely untapped for hockey. The team would have a natural rivalry with the Vancouver Canucks, which the league likes the ability to play up regional rivalry type games. Seattle also has a strong potential ownership group, great potential for corporate sponsorship, and is known for having loyal fans for their other professional teams.
Seattle would represent a large media and TV market for the NHL to tap into heading into their next media rights contract which would improve the value of that deal. It also would balance the NHL which currently has 31 teams: 16 in the East and 15 in the West, the addition of Seattle would even the conferences from an alignment standpoint.
The NHL could also relocate a team from another market to Seattle, as I have covered in the past, with the Arizona Coyotes and Calgary Flames both potentially looking to leave their current market over disputes involving their current respective arena leases.
The NBA, according to reports from NBC among others, is not actively entering into an expansion process. The current CBA agreement between the players union and the league ownership has a clause for potential expansion in 2022. That is where certain people within the Oak View Group involved in the Seattle arena renovations have indicated that the Sonics could return to the NBA.
The process to this point has been a long road, Seattle is one of the few major American cities to not have an updated or newly constructed arena for entertainment and sports. The vote today will provide major enhancements to a nostalgic building in the heart of the downtown area of the city.
The sports fans there could be welcoming NHL hockey to their city and that would become a destination for many hockey fans from outside the region as well. The return of the Sonics may not be far behind. In the end, the Oak View Group was better connected than the Hansen group, it had a proposal that utilized an existing arena rather than constructing something totally new, and the Key Arena proposal kept the historic roof as well as other elements intact which was very smart.
The arena will be renovated and will be incredible when it is completed if it is anywhere near the renderings I saw earlier today. The city will now wait and see if their investment will yield them the sports teams they desire. The addition of one team generates a greatly enhanced amount of revenue for the city and Oak View Group than just having concerts and shows at the venue. The addition of two teams would be a revenue machine and would make for happy residents as well.
Seattle just put the money on the table to become a premiere sports city, a move they were reluctant to make in the past, now it will be interesting to see how the NHL and NBA respond in the months ahead.