SEATTLE – Mayor Ed Murray said Thursday that the NHL initiated a recent meeting, which involved the league’s top officials and the prospective owner of a Seattle-based NHL franchise.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly flew to Seattle May 6 and met privately with King County Executive Dow Constantine and Murray. Seattle’s mayor said the top executives asked about changing the Memorandum of Understanding on the Seattle Arena project to allow an NHL team to prompt construction.
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“They were interested in changing the MOU, governing the future arena, allowing them go first instead of basketball,” Murray told KING5. “I told them that at least at this point, I didn’t think the council is interested in flipping that.”
Investor Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer have agreed to partially fund a new NBA and NHL complex, which is currently undergoing an environmental review. The Memorandum of Understanding, approved by the Seattle City and King County Councils, allows construction to begin after the environmental review is complete and an NBA team is acquired.
Murray said he “offered suggestions like Key Arena as an interim possibility, but they didn’t seem interested.”
Prospective owner Ray Bartoszek, who has publicly stated his interest in owning a team in Seattle, told KING 5 on he was not part of the meeting. Another interested hockey owner, Don Levin, who has focused his attention on Bellevue, could not be reached for comment. He has also publicly stated his interest in owning an NHL franchise in the Seattle market. Hansen has repeatedly stated he, nor Ballmer, are interested in owning a hockey team.
An NHL spokesperson has said Bettman and Daly were on the West Coast to attend the Ducks-Kings series. The two teams played in Anaheim the night before.
The NHL's Frank Brown confirmed the meeting earlier this week and said, "Commissioner Bettman met with the mayor while on the West Coast for playoff games. The purpose of the meeting was solely to obtain a status report on the new arena."
Constantine spokesman Frank Abe would only generally speak about the talks, saying, "The Executive was pleased to have the chance to meet in person with Commissioner Bettman and to express our abiding interest in having the NHL locate here in Seattle and King County."
Sources told KING 5 that Constantine, currently out on paternity break, has privately and quietly been meeting with interested hockey investors over the last several months. Three different groups have expressed interest in owning an NHL franchise in Seattle.
Hansen has repeatedly described looking for a "partner" for his arena who is willing to assume some of the financial risk. That could mean, but would not be limited to, asking the hockey owner to provide some of a new arena construction cost.
Asked if that would be a “game changer,” Murray told KING 5, “We would have to look at the complications and talk to council.”
Seattle City Council President Tim Burgess said Thursday he had not heard of such a proposal, but would be interested to hear it. He also reiterated his position, once again, that he did not believe the MOU should be modified to allow the NHL to prompt construction and that the arena could not work with just an NHL tenant.
A new NHL team would likely have to play at least one year in Key Arena, depending on the status of a new complex. It's unclear if the NHL would be willing to commit a team to Seattle without some sort of guarantee a state-of-the-art, hockey-friendly facility was definitively on the way. The NHL Board of Governors meeting is planning on meeting next month to handle league business.
Bryan Stevens, spokesperson for the Seattle Department of Planning and Development, said on Tuesday that the environmental review on the project is now not scheduled to be completed until "sometime this fall." He added, that he believed, that there had been "no measurable movement" in the last few weeks.
Hansen and Ballmer were rebuffed in their attempt to buy the Sacramento Kings franchise one year ago. NBA Owners rejected their deal back on May 15, 2013.
Ballmer told the Wall Street Journal on Thursday that he’s still interested in buying an NBA franchise, and would be open to talking about the Clippers.
“I have nothing definitive to say. Am I right on top of what’s going on there? Absolutely I am. I love basketball, and I’d love to participate at some point in the NBA. If the opportunity is outside of Seattle, so be it. I will learn about any team that comes up for sale at this point,” he told the paper, adding “If I get interested in the Clippers, it would be for Los Angeles. I don’t work anymore, so I have more geographic flexibility than I did a year, year-and-a half ago. Moving them anywhere else would be value destructive."