Thiel: Another arena vote, another beer to cheer

Thiel: Another arena vote, another beer to cheer

Credit: KING

Thiel: Another arena vote, another beer to cheer


by Art Thiel


Posted on September 14, 2012 at 7:15 AM

Updated Friday, Sep 14 at 5:30 PM

Sitting in the the back of a still-empty McRory’s restaurant, apart from the growing Pioneer Square din, Chris Hansen was approached by a staffer packing a smart phone and a big grin.

Hansen's observers in city hall texted that city council’s finance committee voted 7-0 with one abstention to move along the arena deal for a vote of the full council.

The vote was no surprise, but it was a another benchmark for the hometown boy in the deal to bring back the Sonics.

"Cool," he said, offering a thumbs-up a smile. The return of the NBA is still far away, but it was another day closer.

"The NBA has been watching very carefully," Hansen said. "They have a copy of (the amended memorandum of understanding). They're following every step."

The step Thursday evening included a beer on Hansen for anyone who showed up to McRory's to celebrate the agreement announced Tuesday between Hansen and the city council to improve considerably, for the public's benefit,  the deal to build a $500 million basketball/hockey arena.

That would be his second personal guarantee of the week. The first one was that if the arena, once built and operating, becomes a financial failure, his butt is liable.

Real estate developers, even part-timers like him, don't do that. Does he care that he set a bad precedent for his would-be lodge brothersin the business of pro sports?

"I'm not focused on what others might say," he said. "If (these compromises are) what it took to get it done, I would say it's OK."

Hansen said he was "very, very, very confident" that the project would never default to him to pay the mortgage. Seattle fans and taxpayers not born in the last few years would cough loudly at that.

But Hansen wouldn't have gotten this far if he listened to coughs, critics or those who said he would "rue the day." He still might -- a year-long environmental impact process has the ability to make the strongest men weep -- but for now, he has redirected $47 million that was going to debt retirement to help untie the SoDo traffic knot and made KeyArena more habitable.

Those were the two biggest priorities sought by council and staffers, who started with a laundry list much longer. The multitude of desires was perhaps the most bewildering aspect of this phase of the project -- he had nine city council members and nine county council members to hear and attempt to please.

He thought he was more or less done when he had the go-ahead from Mayor Mike McGinn and King County Executive Dow Constantine.

"I underestimated the difficulty of negotiating with 18 different people," he said.  "They don’t speak as a uniform group. They each have different things to bring to the discussion.

"It's a tough, tough negotiation to coalesce everyone’s requests and get them prioritized and getting someone to speak as one."

The job fell largely to council members Tim Burgess, Mike O'Brien and Sally Clark to reduce the yammering and decide on what was manageable. Unsurprisingly, they made a much bigger ask then they eventually received.

"There wasn't a non-starter issue as much as the amount of money they were asking," he said. "I said, 'You guys have to put your priority list together, and then you have to help tell me how much it’s going to cost me.'

"It was frustrating, but we got there. Tim did a great job in organizing and prioritizing, where we could actually get something done. The central staff deserves a lot of credit too. Like any negotiation, it came down to me understanding what was important to the transaction for the council,  and for the council to understand what was important to me."

What was important for Hansen was that his revenue streams from the original plan were not so undercut that the deal would not pass muster with banks from whom he plans to borrow. That's how they reached $47 million from a figure much higher.

For the amended MOU to succeed from the council's point of view, the $40 million Hansen has dedicated to an infrastructure fund needs to be matched ("seed money," Burgess called it) by a similar amount from the Port of Seattle and other SoDo constituencies to make mutually beneficial projects happen.

That's the plan, anyway. But for Thursday night, the plan was to celebrate. Hansen took to a microphone outside McRory's to say thanks to a couple thousand supporters hailing him on the fenced-off Occidental Avenue, then moved inside and stood in front of Seattle's most celebrated backbar to salute more revelers.

"We'll really celebrate when a Sonics player steps off a plane," Hansen said. Such a thought has seemed, since that dreary July day in 2008 when the Sonics were sold out to Oklahoma City, preposterous. But several thousand beers last night offered testimony to a contrary aspiration.

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