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Seattle Arena Investor Hansen Looking For Teammate, Facing Hurdles

Ted S. Warren
AP Photo
Chris Hansen takes part in an Associated Press interview Tuesday, May 26, 2015, at a cafe in Seattle not far from where he hopes to build a basketball and hockey arena.

Investor Chris Hansen confirmed in interviews this week that he is looking for a new teammate in his Seattle arena project. Hansen's plan for a basketball and hockey arena in the SoDo district recently received a favorable Environmental Impact Statement.

But the process is far from over. KPLU sports commentator Art Thiel said there are bigger hurdles ahead, including the question of which sport should come first.

Council Approval Not A Slam Dunk

Thiel said he was surprised by Hansen's statement that he thinks he has the political support necessary to get the issuance of a Master Use Permit.

"As a part of that process the city council would not only have to vote on the Master Use Permit but they would also have to agree to vacate a street south of the Mariners stadium – Occidental. And that’s a big deal," Thiel said.

"The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) said there was relatively light traffic and the consequences would be minimal to vacate that. I'm sure opponents in that area will say 'We want that street saved.'

"So that argument is going to be before the council and then the Master Use Permit. That's a difficult thing given what I've been able to perceive about the left-leaning nature of the Seattle City Council," Thiel pointed out.

Council members are up for election in November, Thiel said, and the earliest that Mayor Ed Murray said this council will consider the issue is September.

"I’m not sure that there are five votes on this city council to support what opponents will call corporate welfare by getting $120 million dollars of the public's bonding capacity given to Hansen," he said.

More Private Money?

Mayor Murray has said that more private money is likely needed for the arena project. In an interview with the Associated Press this week, Hansen said he doesn't have a deal from anyone who purports to be an NHL owner or his partner in the arena.

"He does want a partner in the arena," Thiel said. "He has an offer to the city (and county) in a Memorandum of Understanding for 'basketball first' that takes a lot of risk on the private side. That's what he had to do to get it to this point.

"I think NHL owners or any other owner are going to take a look at that and say 'Boy that's a little too much for me.'

"He has had a conversation with a Los Angeles real estate magnate named Victor Coleman who wants to partner with Hansen. But Hansen said, so far, no proposal," Thiel said. "So until that happens, Hansen has nothing to go forward with on a team. He's trying to put pressure on the NHL now to deliver a proposal."

Bigger Hurdles Ahead

It's taken several years for Hansen to acquire the real estate needed for his proposed location in SoDo and to meet the standards of the EIS. But Thiel said that's nothing compared to what Hansen still has to do.

"He has to get the Memorandum of Understanding rewritten to allow hockey first and prove that hockey isn't a riskier proposition," Thiel said. "He wants that responsibility given to the prospective NHL owner to deal with the city because that's not his job.

"His job is to be, as he put it, 'accommodating.' And, really, his big passion has been the NBA. The NBA isn't coming here for two or three or four more years. So he's got to deal with the NHL.

"It's not where his heart lies. And I'm not sure that the political realities of Seattle have occurred to him yet. I think it's going to be a real tough slog to get past September," Thiel said.

Competition From Tukwila

Then there's the question of a possible hockey arena in Tukwila.

"A Connecticut investment banker by the name of Ray Bartoszek has a proposal in to the Tukwila City Council to build a 19,000-seat arena," Thiel said.

"It seems plausible. But, as Chris Hansen said, 'It's easy to talk about these things. I've got $100 million in it already. I'm doing it.'"


You can find Art Thiel's work at Sportspress Northwestand

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.