SEATTLE – Brian Robinson says every winter, he’s had the same feeling.
“I just miss having an outlet. I used to sit and watch the games after work,” Robinson says wistfully, “I just love the greatest athletes in the world do amazing things.”
The NBA has not been in Seattle for three years, and a few months ago, this one-time President of ‘Save Our Sonics’ decided to change his approach. He quietly began soliciting local corporate and political leaders, to coalesce in a unified and strategic effort to build an NBA/NHL arena.
He speaks energetically.
“Everywhere I go people want it. If you talk to contractors, plumbers, electricians, they want it. If you go to the Bellevue Athletic Club, people want it. If you go to Rainier Beach HS, people want it.”
The group “Arena Solution” – which he calls a “group of people who want to talk about solving this critical problem” - lists an impressive collection of names. Former Sonics CEO Bob Whitsitt and local developer Craig Kinzer are part of the group.
“There are a number of people both private and public trying to make this work,” says Kinzer, who helped broker the deal for Benaroya Hall, Safeco Field, and the Children’s Hospital expansion, among others.
“Let’s make this more transparent,” says the CEO of Kinzer Real Estate Services. “We’re much further along than people realize.”
Kinzer, also a former Sonics minority owner, says there are “three or four” spots which have been seriously considered for an arena.
“I’m helping (Arena Solution) talk with all the jurisdictions and let them each know the things they can do.”
Kinzer believes the group is laying the groundwork for a major investor or two, who does not want to do the legwork required for a privately financed area. “I would certainly help with being a catalyst to that group if possible,” says Kinzer.
No one is even discussing the use of public funds. However, several cities have shown interest in being part of an arena project. Tacoma made its interest public, commissioning a study on a Tacoma Dome renovation earlier this year. Sources say the city of Bothell also made preliminary real estate inquiries, and Bellevue remains the frontrunner, the closest to closing an arena deal.
“I’ve talked to several people interesting in doing an arena,” says Bellevue developer Kemper Freeman. “I’ve seen research that shows many of the ticket holders live on the Eastside. (An arena) is a taxpayer, not a taxeater, so I like that too. However, he has concerns over traffic congestion, and plans related to an arena. Freeman, who owns Bellevue Square, and Lincoln Square, says if those issues can be addressed he’d help the project, “I’m an advocate of an arena, and will work like mad to make it happen here.”
A Freeman associate has joined the group, and Robinson’s effort to secure private financing.
“We’ve really got to do it now, or it’ll be 5-10 years before we can have this discussion again. There is absolutely a sense of urgency,” says Robinson.
But Kinzer admits the deal will be complex, and also likely have to be announced in conjunction with an acquisition of a franchise. “I think it would be foolish to build it, and say if we build it they will come.”
A spokesperson for King County Executive Dow Constantine acknowledges a senior staffer has sat in on at least one meeting with “Arena Solution”.
Frank Abe, Constantine’s Communication Director says the Executive “is a fan of college and professional sports and believes it adds to the quality of life. He commends Arena Solution for their effort.”
Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes would not comment on Seattle’s rumored interest in a Key Arena renovation or a new arena project, but said, “(Robinson) is an inspiration to everyone like me who believes Seattle deserves an NBA franchise and the needed economic boost that it will bring to our region.”