Renton Sonics May Be No Longer

Seattle closer today to possible arena deal in SODO area; Jock Tax placed on hold.

Five years ago today (Feb. 13) then Seattle Sonics basketball owner Clay Bennett announced to elected officials in Olympia that he wanted to build a new basketball/hockey arena in Renton. The $500 million arena was never financed and the team left in 2008.

King 5 TV Reporter Chris Daniels first reported in December that Christopher Hansen, a wealthy San Francisco hedge-fund manager is interested in building an arena to house professional basketball/hockey teams. Hansen, 42, has roots to Seattle and now heads Valiant Capital Management LLC. The news has renewed some cities hopes to land the arena.

Bennet praised Renton as being “a city on the verge of a transformation” and predicted a new arena would “trigger vast economic development.” However, Renton’s Administrator of the Department of Community and Economic Development confirms the city has not been approached with a potential investor according to Alex Pietsch.

Renton Mayor Denis Law, who was a councilperson when Bennett announced his last-minute selection of Renton over Bellevue, says “like before, the city is clearly open to exploring options that will boost our local economy, including a sports facility if it makes sense.”

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn’s office confirms the mayor was approached last summer by Hansen to build an arena in the SODO region. Hiss office also confirmed  to Renton Patch that McGinn hired nationally prominent sports-facilities consultant, Carl Hirsh, to advise the city on the development of a new, state-of-the-art sports facility that could draw an NBA team back to Seattle.

“Seeing that the opportunity was serious, the mayor directed members of his senior team to work with staff in our Department of Finance and Administrative Services to make sure that the City would be prepared to take advantage of any concrete offer should one be made. Outside expertise on arena financing and local taxation issues was also retained as a part of this work,” said Aaron Pickus, Assistant Communications Director to Mayor McGinn.

Even the city of Tacoma is jumping at the possibility of landing a NBA/NHL team by partnering with several other Tacoma area businesses and groups to look at the Tacoma Dome and what upgrades might be needed of the nearly 29-year-old building. The $100,000 study is expected to go to bid shortly despite word of an investor in Seattle according to a Tacoma Community Relations Manager Rob McNair-Huff.

Renton Has Land, Opportunity
Hansen purchased land south of the Safeco Field Parking garage just more than 3 acres in size, according to King County Property Records. The smallest multi-purpose arena is 4.4 acres at Philips Arena in Atlanta, Georgia.

The property where Bennett wanted to build the Renton arena still sits vacant; however last year the Boeing Company sold the land located south of The Landing to Mercer Island’s ITF Developments LLC for $10 million. Renton Patch attempted to contact ITF Developments for comment on the lands future; they didn’t return our calls or email. Pietsch confirmed “there have been no talks of imminent development on the ITF site.”

Bennett’s long list of 29 potential sites was never released made public. The old Longacres site, which sits nearly half-empty could be developed, especially with the . The only drawback is the lack of restaurants and bars in the general area.

Overall Renton appears to be out of the running for a new arena, unless someone states they want to build in Renton.


“We have developers looking at sites in Renton for several different uses but there is nothing currently on the table for serious consideration,” said Mayor Law. “Certainly land near The Landing and Longacres would work for a stadium, but Seattle is clearly leading most of the speculation as sites for any future stadium.”

Bellevue’s Future Also Dark
Bellevue was number two site for an arena if the Renton location would not work; however, Bennett never publicly said which location an arena would be built. The old Bellevue’s Auto Row along 116 Ave, south of Overlake Hospital or the old Safeway Distribution Center have been speculated as sites. Both locations provide great access to either I-405 or SR-520 and future Sounder Rail.

The city’s Interim Communications Director David Grant said “The city has received informal interest from people about building an arena in Bellevue, but no concrete proposals have been submitted. As far as available land, a developer would need to purchase property. As far as I know there is not sufficient vacant land available.”

King 5 Reporter Chris Daniels reported last summer Don Levin owner of the American Hockey League Chicago Wolves (farm team to the NHL’s Vancouver Cancusk) had visited Bellevue to discuss a privately financed arena project. Levin said he can’t build the arena, but would like to partner with an NBA ownership group to fill a new facility.  

Levin also said he hasn’t been contacted by Hansen.

Arena Solution, a group that supports bringing a sports arena to the Puget Sound area, will be featured at the next about how an area professional basketball and hockey team would affect Bellevue. The forum will feature Brian Robinson, president of ArenaSolution.org and Craig Kinzer, principal of Kinzer Real Estate Services and partner at Denny Hill Capital.

The Kings And Hornets In Financial Libo
While the city of Seattle and Hansen look to build a possible arena. The Sacramento Kings are facing a looming March 1 deadline to put together a financing plan for a new arena there. According to the Sacramento Bee, the current owners, The Maloof family, hava repeatedly said it has no interest in selling the team. The basketball team declined comment to Renton Patch regarding the Seattle Times article. Sacramento City Council will receive an update on Tuesday, Feb. 14 on a plan to privatize downtown city parking to raise money money for an arena. According to the City of Sacramento website, an arena project could net between $170-245million/annually.

Another team, the New Orleans Hornets, were recently brought to become the NBA’s first owned team after former majority owner George Shinn who was not able to sell the team to minority owner Gary Chouest. NBA Commissioner David Stern has said they will look for an owner in New Orleans before looking elsewhere in a December press release.

McGinn’s office states the city is not in talks with the NBA or NHL to bring a team to Seattle. “Our assumption is that the private investor would have that conversation with the respective leagues,” Pickus said.

NBA Commissioner David Stern said last week to the Salt Lake City Tribune,“We had heard reports of some interest in Seattle and the name of the person who’s associated with it is not totally unknown to me. I think he came in and I met with him, it must be a year ago. Just a general conversation; he was brought in by a mutual friend."

The commissioner said he wasn’t familiar with specifics about Seattle’s latest effort. But he ran through a list of past and current potential sites for an NBA-ready building in the city, including land that would be made available by demolishing Key Arena, the Sonics’ former home; a historic football field near Key Arena; and the suburb of Bellevue, Wash.

Another step in returning a team to Seattle will be Clay Bennett, head of the NBA Relocation Committee. Renton Patch attempted to contact Bennett for comment, however email and phone calls to both the Oklahoma Thunder and his investment group were not returned.

National Hockey League, Too!
The Phoenix Coyotes filed for bankruptcy in 2009 after incurring several hundred million dollars of losses since their move to Phoenix from Winnipeg, Canada. A Bankruptcy court rejected a plan to sell the team and move it to Canada, and the team was purchased by the NHL. Since that time, the team has been operated by the NHL in Phoenix while the team remains for sale.

Last month Julie Frisoni, Executive Communication Director for the City of Glendale said “The city is unable to comment with ongoing negotiations between two possible buyers, or who those possible buyers are.”

National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman has expressed a strong interest in placing a team in Seattle, leading to widespread speculation that the financially struggling Phoenix Coyotes could be moved here.

Arena Size?
Clay Bennett told the Ways and Means Committee in 2007 the ideal location for an arena would be 15-20 acres that would allow for future expansion. It's why his group selected the Renton site over Bellevue, he said.

The current location where Hansen purchased is only 3.06 acres according to King County Property records.

Its unknown if Hansen has talked with other property owners to the west of his property. If the property to the west is purchased it would bring the total to nearly 6.5 acres including the vacation of Occidental Ave.

Three of the seven parcels had been recently sold in December 2010 and are owned by the same investment groups, who declined comment to Renton Patch. Only two parcels are separately owned, including the Showbox SODO, an entertainment venue since 2007 that hosts 200 concerts a year. The Showbox did not return calls to Renton Patch for comment.

How To Pay For The arena? Taxes vs Private
There are no current plans for funding a possible arena, Seattle Mayor McGinn has said that no public monies will be used to build an arena.

Others have looked at alternated ways to include taxing professional players who play in Seattle. Washington State Representative Mike Hope (R-Lake Stevens) had been looking at a Jock Tax that would tax visiting professional players. However Friday morning Rep. Hope's office confirmed to Renotn Patch he will not be moving forward with the bill to bring the NBA to Seattle this year. He has talked with people in Seattle and Chris Hansen, and was asked by investors to not move forward.

An example stems from Ichiro Suzuki, the highest-paid baseball player in Washington, who would have to pay more than $218,000 in California taxes for the 25 games the Mariners played during the 2009 season according to an April 12, 2009 article in The Los Angeles Times, the state of California collected $102 million in taxes from visiting athletes in 2006-07.

In 2007 Senate Bill 5986 would extend several taxes paying off existing sports stadiums to fund a new arena, arts groups and stadium maintenance. The bill was not supported and the team eneded up leaving Seattle with no promise to fund another arena.

Mayor McGinn told Ian Furness and Jason Puckett of KJR-950 AM on Feb. 9, “The City can't go into an arena as a money losing proposition. I cannot predict how it ends.  I know there is a lot of excitement out there and it would be a big financial commitment from the investors and they have to make their decisions. We have to see how far they are willing to go and judge how far we are willing to go and hopefully it will all meet in the middle."

According to the Seattle Times on Friday, Seattle City Council received its first briefing from counsultant Carl Hirsh in a closed-door meeting. Hirsh offered broad outlines but few details. The Times states council members aid revenue to build a Seattle arena and to cover the costs of acquiring NBA/NHL teams could come from admission taxes from events at the new facility, as well as the development of a lucrative televsion network.

By Friday morning neither spokespersons for Mayor McGinn nor the Council had details on the television network.



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