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Seattle street vacation allows for NHL-first arena, SoDo arena group says

An artist's rendition of the proposed Seattle Arena. (Credit: Seattle Arena)

An artist's rendition of the proposed Seattle Arena. (Credit: Seattle Arena) less

SEATTLE - In a new two-page letter, Chris Hansen's Seattle Arena investment group says they would only vacate a street to build an arena if they acquire and NBA or NHL team first. 

The letter, dated Thursday, to Seattle's Mayor, City Council, and the King County Executive -- obtained by KING 5 -- also opens up the possibility of building the complex for an NHL team first. It was signed by Hansen, Wally Walker, Peter and Erik Nordstrom, and Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. Wilson recently joined the group as an investor.

The letter also states their request to tear up the existing Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on the SoDo arena, and "restore $200 million in debt capacity to the City and County" in exchange for the vacation.  The group had previously offered to privately finance the new sports arena.  It also claims the "sales tax revenue generated by the Arena which would have been devoted to debt service for the Arena bonds would now accrue to the city and county general funds."

The offer, laid out in the letter, indicates the group will refile their petition for a one-block vacation of Occidental soon, and "the revised petition will include new elements to help address freight mobility concerns. We also support the council’s proposal to devote the payment we would make for the vacated street to the Lander Overpass project to help close the project’s remaining funding gap."

The group reiterated they are seeking a waiver of the city's admissions tax, and "This reflects similar treatment for CenturyLink Field and Safeco Field, which are exempt from the tax; those revenues are instead dedicated to payment for those facilities. We would also like to explore an adjustment to the City’s Business and Occupation Tax for national broadcast media."  The group also says the scheduling agreement with the Mariners, Seahawks, and Sounders remains in place.

The letter goes on to state that by eliminating the MOU, "(the) sole reliance on private financing removes the “NBA first” element of the MOU and allows us to engage more directly with the NHL."

The Seattle City Council voted 5-4 to reject the Hansen Group's street vacation petition in May. Hansen's group says their offer is a response to the concerns addressed at that time. Just this past month, council members were asked about that vote and the new private offer on the Seattle Channel broadcast Inside/Out. Council member Lisa Herbold reiterated, that her no vote was not about public financing, but that she felt the public benefit for a street vacation involved the acquisition of a team.

The NHL has repeatedly shown interest in the Seattle market. The NBA has said, multiple times in the past two years that it is not pursuing expansion at this time. However, it is close to finalizing a new collective bargaining agreement with the players association and has until December 15th to do so and opt out of the current deal. Last month, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, in an interview with Sirius XM, hinted the league might study the issue at a later date.

However, the City of Seattle says it will take Requests for Proposals on KeyArena as a potential venue for an NBA and NHL franchise. Oak View Group, the group with a bid to redevelop KeyArena, announced Thursday that veteran sports executive Lance Lopes was named Director of Special Projects and will lead the group's bid.

“I am excited to have a leadership role in the effort to maintain the Key Arena location as a vital part of the Seattle entertainment experience," said Lopes in a statement. "Seattle is a world-class city and the community deserves a world-class arena venue."

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has indicated he does not think the city will entertain the vacation petition until later next year.

Hansen's group wrote Thursday, "We believe this proposal makes a good-faith effort to address the concerns expressed by council members and represents the best opportunity to bring a state-of-the-art new professional sports venue to Seattle. In addition to being privately financed with no direct costs to the City or County, the region would benefit from the Arena’s net positive economic impact of between $230 and $286 million a year. Approving the conditional street vacation in no way hampers or interferes with the Key Arena RFP process, but rather puts the city in the best possible position to take advantage of franchise opportunities that could become available."

Wilson added his opinion on the street vacation in an essay on the Seattle arena website.

"Approving the conditional street vacation makes the Arena shovel-ready, and sends a loud message to the NBA and NHL that Seattle is ready and eager for teams. That we want our Sonics back to accompany the Storm, and a hockey team to pick up where the Seattle Metropolitans left off nearly a century ago. All we need is for the Seattle City Council to make this one last nod of approval," wrote Wilson.

Copyright 2016 KING


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