The City of Seattle has put itself in the running for NBA and NHL franchises by unveiling a plan to build a $500-million (all currency U.S.) arena with public and private money.
The plan is spearheaded by Chris Hansen, a San Francisco-based hedge-fund manager who grew up in Seattle and is a basketball fan. Hansen will kick in $290-million to the project with the city and county contributing $200-million, which they hope to recover through rent and taxes on the venue.
While Hansen’s main goal is to bring back the NBA, city officials made it clear they are also after an NHL club. Hansen “has presented us a promising path to bring the NBA back to Seattle and introduce the NHL to our state,” Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn said at a press conference Thursday. King County Executive Dow Constantine invoked the Seattle Metropolitans, who won the Stanley Cup in 1917, saying that was the first team to bring a championship to the city, and not the Seattle SuperSonics, who won the NBA title in 1979. Sonics owner Clay Bennett moved the team to Oklahoma City in 2008 when he could not reach an agreement with the city on a new arena.
According to a term sheet released Thursday, Hansen is proposing to have NBA and NHL teams in the city before completion of the venue, with both teams playing at the 17,000-seat KeyArena in the interim. That could have implications for Quebec City, which is vying for an NHL franchise as well but has yet to build an arena. Both Seattle and Quebec City are eyeing the league-owned Phoenix Coyotes. The league has been searching for a local owner for the Coyotes but has said it will move the club if a deal cannot be reached.
Hansen has also promised to not relocate either team for 30 years. The city will also own the new arena and Hansen will pay for all upgrades. And while both governments said they are committed to the project, McGinn said it will be up to Hansen to deal with the leagues and acquire the franchises.
In a letter to McGinn and Dow, Hansen said he was “confident this proposal will be looked on favorably by both leagues.” He added that he is looking for more partners, including someone to lead the NHL effort.
He may not have to look far. Don Levin, who owns the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League, said Thursday he told Hansen he would be “very happy” to get involved as the owner of an NHL team in Seattle. “If he’s successful, I’d be very happy to be involved,” Levin said. “I told [Hansen]if he has something put together, I would be interested.”
Levin also said he has spoken to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman about owning an NHL team, although he said they have not discussed Seattle specifically. Nor have they discussed the financially ailing Coyotes, the most obvious candidate to be moved.
Bettman said recently that Seattle is on the league’s radar as a destination for an NHL team. The commissioner also said the city has to have definite plans for an arena before the NHL would commit to anything.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in an e-mail message: “We have had conversations with Don Levin over the period of the last several years about his potential interest in owning an NHL franchise. None of those discussions occurred recently [probably not within the last calendar year]and none have involved the Phoenix Coyotes.”
Levin has more than enough wealth to become an NHL owner. He founded D.R.L. Enterprises in 1969, a Chicago-based company that has interests in a number of fields, including aircraft and medical equipment leasing, sports products and tobacco processing. The company has also produced about 20 motion pictures.
The Sacramento Kings are the leading target for Hansen. The NBA gave the city of Sacramento a deadline of March 1 to provide a plan for a new arena or the team could be moved. In his letter released Thursday, Hansen said he hopes to approach the NBA about his proposal at the league’s ownership meeting in April.
Seattle could prove to be a tricky market for these teams. The city’s economy has been struggling and it would be the smallest city in the United States to have teams in all four major pro sports.