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Hundreds rally in support of NBA arena in Seattle; intensity building

The level of intensity around the proposal to build a new NBA arena in Seattle is growing by the minute.

The group of investors – which we learned yesterday includes Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and the Nordstrom family – drew hundreds to a "bring back our Sonics" rally in Pioneer Square today. It was a well-timed event to put pressure on the Seattle City Council and King County Council to back the deal.

“This is a very carefully orchestrated PR campaign," says KPLU sports commentator Art Thiel. "At the same time, the old Sonics – the Thunder – are in the NBA Finals this week. The angst could not be more intense in Seattle among sports fans who care about this because their 41-year passion is being thrown back in their face, mocked by the Thunder’s presence in the league’s championship series.”

(Below is an aerial photo of where the new arena would be built.)

Organizers hoped thousands of fans to show up to see former Sonics stars and demonstrate support for the plan put forth by hedge-fund manager and investment group leader Chris Hansen.

Flexible plans, taxes

The $490 million plan has gone through a few changes, as expected, and one controversial revelation ... possibly also expected.

Last week, a new wrinkle was added to the original proposal. Now, an NHL team is no longer needed to start construction. Only an NBA team, with a non-relocation agreement signed, is needed to begin construction on the proposed 18,500-seat facility.

The city/county investment in the project would be capped at $200 million if both an NBA and NHL team are acquired and would be capped at $120 million if it's only an NBA team. The agreement calls for $290 million in private investment.

The Seattle Times reported last week that Seattle property owners would pay an additional $2 to $3 a year in property taxes for the new sports arena proposed for Sodo, because as a publicly owned facility the site would be removed from the property-tax rolls.

"So it's not true that this is not costing the taxpayers of the city anything," Seattle City Councilmember Tim Burgess said last week during a committee hearing on the arena's financing.

High political stakes

Thiel explains (listen into Thiel's converation with KPLU's Kirsten Kendrick tomorrow morning to get his full view of the issue):

“If I were the mayor and I put all my political capital on the table – or at least a lot of it – on this arena project, I’d want to know one thing: is Chris Hansen going to be able to find a team to fill that arena? David Stern is not going to tell him yes or no, but he’s got to give (Seattle Mayor Mike) McGinn a reading on the landscape. And if McGinn doesn’t ask that question, he’s even more foolish than I thought he was. So, I really do think that this was McGinn’s attempt to find out what the risk factors were and what the likelihood was of Sacramento or someone else that he’s not familiar with becoming a potential relocation for Seattle. If I’m the mayor I’d sure want to know how much risk I’m taking here and am I going to sit here for three or four years waiting for a team to become available. He needs to know that.”

(McGinn's vision of the deal.)

Hansen is expected to address the King County Council next Tuesday and the City Council the day after.

The Seattle City Council and King County Council announced today that they will co-host a joint public hearing on July 19 regarding the proposal for a new multi-purpose arena in SODO. Members of the public are invited to attend and give in-person testimony to City and County councilmembers. Both Councils accept written public comments at any time.