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NBA arena for Seattle deal isn't without risk, council told

Jonathan Klapel
King County Executive Dow Constantine, left, and proposed arena financier Chris Hansen (photographed at a press conference in Seattle on April 5) face some skepticism from the King County Council.

If an NBA team comes to Seattle, what guarantees are there that it won’t leave again? That’s one of the questions King County Council members are asking.

As a proposal for a privately built basketball and hockey arena works its way through the political process, both Seattle City Council and King County Councils are mulling it over.

During a county briefing, the question of a putting a non-relocation agreement into the contract came up. 

Comes down to trust

Having felt burned by the departure of the Sonics in 2008, council members are looking for some reassurance.

Arena review panel member Maud Daudon told the council the deal would require team owners to pay off the bond debt if the team moved before 30 years was up. But, she says, ultimately, nothing is ironclad.

"There is probably no risk free answer to this concern. I mean, there are safeguards that are recommended, but at the end of the day you are counting on the NBA to be here," she said.

She said the deal is a partnership between the city and the investors and, as with any partnership, it will come down to trust.

'Deal never stays a deal'

The arena deal stipulates that city and county taxpayers would not be on the hook for financing the arena, but council member Larry Phillips is skeptical.

“My history here with these professional sports arenas is a deal never stays a deal. We’ve seen that in the last month in Sacramento. They were losing a team, then they saved a team and now they’re losing a team,” he said.

He pointed out that when things go sideways financially, owners often want to renegotiate. 

In Portland, he says, Paul Allen, owner of the Trail Blazers, threatened bankruptcy if his arena contract wasn't renegotiated.

Support more pros?

Some King County Council members also wonder if the Seattle can  support two more professional sports teams. 

The arena proposal comes from former Seattleite Chris Hansen, who is also paying for a study to assess the impacts another stadium in the south of downtown area would have on traffic. 

King County Councilman Pete von Reichbauer summed up what seemed to be the Council's assessment of Hansen and the proposed deal.

"I think he's been extraordinarily transparent with those in this community he's dealt with and I think his roots in this community speak well of who he is and what he intends to do. But good intentions is not enough. It's important for us to work together on an agreement that's transparent and protects the public," said von Reichbauer.


Paula reports on groundbreaking legal decisions in Washington State and on trends in crime and law enforcement. She’s been at KNKX since 1989 and has covered the Law and Justice beat for the past 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.
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