SEATTLE - Ten long years after it began, the end is in sight.
It was February 2006 when then Sonics owner Howard Schultz took a side trip to Olympia with then-NBA Commissioner David Stern to ask for money for a new Key Arena.
It was met with deaf ears.
Five months went by during which Clay Bennett's Oklahoma City group bought the franchise. Like Schultz, the new owners asked for a half-billion dollar publicly financed arena.
That request was met with the same deaf ears, so the team packed its bags for Oklahoma.
A decade later, Seattle appears closer than ever to answering whether or not the city should participate in building a new sports arena. Yet, uncertainty remains.
On Tuesday, the Seattle City Council's committee on Sustainability and Transportation approved legislation to vacate a one-block stretch of Occidental by a vote of 4-1. Passing this out of the full council the last step necessary before the city could issue a master use permit to Hansen.
The vacation legislation includes nine amendments that proponents say amount to a "grand bargain" to appease the critics of the project.
One amendment includes language to hammer out a scheduling agreement between the Mariners, Seahawks, Sounders, and any future NBA/NHL team.
Sources at City Hall say representatives from all of the franchises actually sat down at a table to talk about it last week for the first time in over three years and significant progress was made.
Another amendment would require investor Chris Hansen to provide a "pro-rata monetary payment to the South Lander Street Grade Separation project," which the Port of Seattle has long desired.
In fact, quietly, Seattle City leaders have been working to fund fully the Lander project, which is designed to ease congestion for freight traffic in SoDo.
Last week, SDOT transmitted a formal application to the Federal Highway Administration for a FASTLANE grant for the proposed $137,000,000 project. The Port of Seattle has asked for a Lander overpass for more than a decade, and the project was part of the "Bridging the Gap" levy approved by voters in 2006. However, then-Mayor Greg Nickels redirected the funds to fix the Mercer Mess in South Lake Union.
What's changed is that financing for the project has been gathered over the past year: $20 million from the newest "Move Seattle" levy, $7 million from the Washington legislature, and $5 million from Burlington Northern Sante Fe.
The application to the feds says that $10 million more is anticipated from the Puget Sound Regional Council and $8 million from the Freight Mobility Strategic Investment Board. The application is asking for $55 million, or 39 percent of the total cost. If the feds don't provide the money, the project "will have to be shelved again," according to the SDOT request.
But will progress on the Lander project and the amendments to the Occidental vacation legislation be enough to convince a majority of the council to approve the deal?
Some of the cards were shown on Tuesday. Four council members -- Tim Burgess, Bruce Harrell, Rob Johnson and Mike O'Brien -- all voted to approve the street vacation. Sally Bagshaw was the lone dissenter on the committee.
Burgess noted that there is a precedent with street vacations -- the city has granted 32 of them to the Port of Seattle since 1913, including multiple sites in SoDo. An amendment calls for Hansen to pay fair market value for the 40,000 square feet he would gain from the Occidental vacation, and "multiple million dollars" that would go to the SoDo Transportation fund, as outlined in the memorandum of understanding reached in 2012 between the city and Hansen. That agreement, known in short as the MOU, expires in 2017.
Bagshaw, however, declined to vote on any of the amendments. "I cannot fathom why we are offering up this street vacation at this point," she said
It's unclear just how many others share her view. Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who worked for former Councilmember Nick Licata for two decades, has indicated she will vote against the measure.
That leaves three councilmembers' opinions unknown, with just one needed to tip the scales for a 5-4 vote in favor.
Councilmember Kshama Sawant has stayed relatively quiet on the issue, though she benefited from pro-arena support during her initial campaign for office. In 2013, she defeated longtime Councilmember Richard Conlin in an upset. Conlin and Licata were the two members who voted against the original arena MOU.
Some observers believe Sawant is conflicted. She supports labor, and Hansen's group worked out a deal with unions in the 2012 process for construction and food trade jobs. But Sawant isn't shy about voicing her disdain for "handouts" to corporate interests.
Councilmember Debora Juarez, who has developed a reputation at City Hall as a researcher, has remained mum as well, but told staffers that she has read the entire MOU. Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez, seen by some City Hall watchers as a rising political star, has also not tipped her hand.
Also silent are the two sports leagues that would potentially fill the arena. On Wednesday, both the NBA and NHL issued statements to KING 5 about the current status of the Seattle Arena project.
Mike Bass, a spokesperson for NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, said by email: "As we've discussed, our position remains unchanged. Expansion is not currently on our agenda. We are focused on the health and well-being of our 30 franchises."
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly wrote to KING 5: "Nothing has changed from our standpoint. We are still in the process of completing an expansion process, and that process does not include Seattle. We are not in a position to speculate on what might might happen in the future and it would be inappropriate for us to do so."
Many observers of both leagues have speculated the NHL is waiting for clarity in Seattle before officially announcing an expansion, specifically to Las Vegas. There has been no shortage of names in the past few years of interested NHL-to-Seattle parties, whether it would be LA's Victor Coleman, Connecticut Businessman Ray Bartoszek, or Chicago minor league hockey owner Don Levin.
The NBA is in the midst of negotiating a collective bargaining agreement with the Players Association, which may be wrapped up by as early as this summer. Conventional wisdom has been that the NBA would table any discussion on Seattle until after understanding the financial complexities of a new agreement.
That will likely prompt more questions before a final vote on May 2, and a regular repeating of a certain phrase that seems to sum up the decade-long arena debate. It was something once said by now LA Clippers owner Steve Ballmer at an event in 2014:
"It's one of the Chicken and Egg things," Ballmer said. "If you have a team, it's easier to get an arena. Have an arena, easier to get a team."
-- Follow Chris Daniels on Twitter: @ChrisDaniels5