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Proposed arena deal good news for city, Sonics fans

Sonics fans pack a news conference to hear the announcement of a proposed arena deal that would bring the NBA back to Seattle and give the city a hockey team as well.
Monica Spain
Sonics fans pack a news conference to hear the announcement of a proposed arena deal that would bring the NBA back to Seattle and give the city a hockey team as well.

KPLU sports commentator Art Thiel likes what he's hearing about a proposed arena deal in Seattle.

The goal is to return the NBA to Seattle and bring the city a professional hockey team with a new arena to be built in the city's SoDo district. The project would be self-funded and not rely on new taxes.Looks good on paper

Art admits he's been skeptical about the idea of a new arena in the past - mainly due to the question of whether public money would be used. But what he heard during a news conference on Thursday put his mind at ease.

"If this pencils out and if everybody does what they have committed to, this is going to be a real boon for the city of Seattle."

Art says the $200 million dollars of public participation would come from rent and taxes generated by the new arena. The private ownership has agreed to handle any revenue shortfall not covered by the bonds that King County and the City of Seattle would be expected to issue to begin construction.

"That really alleviates the biggest concern of most taxpayers, most citizens. They don't want any new taxes, they don't want any money taken from the general fund to sustain this. And, according to the proposal, it will be a self-sustaining enterprise."

A difficult dance ahead

It's still just a proposal. Art says the sequence of events is going to be the biggest challenge, going forward.

The principal investor is Chris Hansen, a Seattle native and Sonics fan who's made millions operating a hedge fund in San Francisco. He has to secure NBA and NHL teams before the city will commit its resources. Art says that means poaching basketball and hockey teams from other cities.

"That's not going to be received well in some quarters. But, then again, this is a ruthless business - pro sports. It's not clear yet to anybody that I spoke to at the press conference how this little cha-cha is going to work. Who takes what step when, in order to get something done?"

Art says it would take two years for an arena to be built - from groundbreaking to conclusion. 

Bringing the Sonics back to Seattle

Assuming it all works out, it's likely Seattle will have another basketball team called the SuperSonics. Art says the city retained the team's name and colors when the old team left town for Oklahoma City in 2008. 

"A new team will be here and the owner has the right to use the name and colors. That's a detail that's still going to be worked out."

You can find Art Thiel's work at Sportspress Northwest.

Kirsten Kendrick hosts Morning Edition on KNKX and the sports interview series "Going Deep," talking with folks tied to sports in our region about what drives them — as professionals and people.
Art Thiel is a co-founder and writer for the rising sports website Sportspress Northwest. In 2003 Thiel wrote the definitive book about the Seattle Mariners, “Out of Left Field,” which became a regional bestseller. In 2009, along with Steve Rudman and KJR 950 afternoon host Mike Gastineau, Thiel authored “The Great Book of Seattle Sports Lists,” a cross between and Mad Magazine that has become mandatory reading for any sports fan who has an indoor bathroom.