Posted on January 4, 2012 at 6:31 PM
Thursday, Jan 5 at 4:06 PM
SEATTLE -- Don Levin has watched the Puget Sound’s arena talk closely, and acknowledges now from his office in Chicago, it’s time for the people to step forward.
“Time is of the essence,” says the owner of the American Hockey League’s Chicago Wolves. “A city needs to step up.”
Levin does not hide his interest in owning an NHL franchise and operating it in the Seattle region. The Wolves are the minor league affiliate of the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks. Levin owns property on Vancouver Island, and has visited the area several times, including a trip through Bellevue to discuss a privately financed arena project last year.
It’s clear the NHL likes Levin.
“We know Don Levin. A good man and a good hockey owner,” wrote NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly in an email Wednesday. But, he added, “We have had no recent discussions or communications with him.”
Daly is carefully choosing his words these days, especially since that as of January 1st, the NHL is allowed to negotiate with cities about relocating the Phoenix Coyotes. The franchise has struggled through bankruptcy and low attendance. Forbes Magazine lists the 2011 franchise value at $134 Million, lowest in the NHL.
The Coyotes, which play in suburban Glendale, Arizona, are currently owned by the league. NHL execs have made strong suggestions a new local buyer needs to be in place before the start of the 2012-2013 season.
That’s because the NHL will be realigned. The Board of Governors voted in December to place Phoenix in a “Western Conference” with Los Angeles, Anaheim, San Jose, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, and Colorado. That’s naturally prompted speculation the league is ready to move the failing franchise to the Emerald City.
Daly, however, implied the league is not rushing to make a decision. “There's still some time,” wrote Daly. “We have no precise timetable. We will be guided by the circumstances.”
Daly also denied that the league had any further discussions with a Seattle ownership group. Multiple sources say there is one other investor or group, besides Levin, interested in bringing the NHL to the Seattle-area.
Levin said he can’t build the arena, but would like to partner with an NBA ownership group to fill a new facility. He denied recent suggestions that he’d been lobbying or working with an NBA group to make that happen.
He also said he hasn’t been contacted by a San Francisco-based hedge fund, Valiant Partners, about the fund's recent purchase of three acres south of Safeco Field. Valiant bought the land from a Seattle businessman for $21.6 million, almost $3 million more than the land's assessed value. The deal for the parcel closed on December 6th. The land is located just south of the Safeco Field parking garage. The seller has declined comment on the deal.
Valiant's deal comes as a well-placed source acknowledged a developer had approached the city about constructing an arena south of downtown near the two stadiums.
Another source close to the talks said the deal would include a “large private contribution”, but that nothing was concrete. King County records show no other transactions near the parcel in question.
“That’s not enough for an arena,” says Levin, who adds, he hasn’t had any conversations with the Seattle buyers. He acknowledged that he continues to keep tabs on a private proposal in Bellevue, which sources say is further along than the Seattle project. “It’s a good site,” said Levin.
But that still doesn’t answer the question of how or where an NHL franchise would play in time for next season. Key Arena was the home of the Western Hockey League’s Thunderbirds, and the Tacoma Dome was a minor league venue as well, which did host a few NHL exhibitions years ago.
Levin said it’s an important factor, as any prospective owner would have to consider that cost and the potential for losses.
“Kansas City, Las Vegas, Quebec City all want teams too,” says Levin, “It could work in Seattle, but you need an arena.”