SEATTLE - The man who wants to build a new sports arena says he wants to set the record straight.

Chris Hansen broke his silence on Monday, following allegations his Seattle Arena Project would cost $731 million in public subsidies. A group calling itself Sonics Without Subsidies said it would sue, based on their new information. The Seattle Times Editorial Board followed with a weekend editorial repeating the findings.

Hansen responded by posted the following statement on his website on Monday afternoon:

It s been a while since I have posted anything here but hope you don t take that as a lessening of my commitment or an indication that work on the Sonics Arena has slowed. My team and I have been working through the city s environmental and design review processes and without getting into a lot of detail I can say that I am pleased with the progress we have made.

While we are focused on this important work our opponents continue to raise the same arguments and issues we have heard so many times over the past year. I guess they think that if you just keep saying the same thing over and over again it somehow becomes true.

For some reason, this seems to hold especially true for the editorial writers at the Seattle Times. With a history of completely fair and unbiased reporting on the Arena issue, is it really a surprise that a report that was not only paid for by the Arena opposition but was also rife with errors in legal interpretation, math, and basic reasoning qualifies as the basis for their latest sensationalistic criticism?

The Times Editorial Board apparently didn t feel the need to consider the fact that our arena proposal went through a lengthy public process in which its legal and economic merits were completely and thoroughly vetted by both the City and County Councils. No need to take into account the fact that both Councils appointed independent committees of experts who analyzed and concluded that this was a good deal for the City. No need to weigh the fact that both Councils employed inside and outside legal counsel to advise them on the legal aspects of the deal (including I-91). And certainly no need to consider the parade of local and national experts who called this amongst the best arena deal any city has ever received.

Based solely on the apparent legal expertise of the Times Editorial Board and a biased report paid for by the opposition, the MOU is apparently illegal and our group is apparently receiving over $700 million in illegal subsidies. Great work. I guess everyone else involved just missed this.

While we have covered the MOU s compliance with I-91 in numerous past posts and writings, in the interest of sanity I thought it would be helpful to point out a couple of the more significant miscues in the so-called report by Private Valuations.

  • Above all else, alarm bells should clearly sound on the credibility of a report that is paid for by the opposition and which claims that the subsidy we are receiving ($773 million) is nearly four times the amount the City and County have agreed to invest in the project especially with all the public sector vetting and guarantees we have put in place. As the saying goes, if it walks like a duck...
  • Having said this, the first major mistake the report makes is NOT basing the I-91 calculations on the net cash-on-cash return of the project. This is the exact language from the I-91 legislation and language the writers of the report conveniently fail to consider or address.
  • Under the definition of cash-on-cash returns (from the finance textbook of your choice!), the return is calculated by dividing the net cash returns (after deducting financing costs) from the project by the cash equity invested (EXCLUDING debt borrowed). Thus the City is either financing their entire investment and investing ZERO cash in the project (which would make the calculation infinite) or the City is considering the entire investment as Cash Equity under which the financing costs must be excluded in calculating the cash return BY DEFINITION. Under this latter interpretation the City would generate a return that exceeds Treasuries by a very wide margin. It is a blatant error to count the $200M investment as equity and then turn around and treat the funds as if they were borrowed and count interest expense as a reduction in the cash return to the City. It is simple double counting.This is an obvious error that Private Valuations should publicly acknowledge as it renders the bulk of their I-91 subsidy conclusions in the report invalid.
  • In much the same manner, the second significant error the authors make is the absolutely ridiculous argument that we are not paying taxes since the incremental taxes generated by the arena go to repay its investment in the project but that same tax money paid by us to the city also doesn t count toward bond repayments as it is not secured. Huh? So by their math we don t get credit for either paying our taxes or the bond repayment and both are cited as a subsidy. Clearly this makes no sense. I guess they are assuming the money we pay the city just vanishes into thin air once it is collected by the tax authorities. Rest assured Seattle, we will be paying taxes to the City and County as defined by the MOU. And we have secured those tax payments with collateral and guarantees that would result in any major lender in the world considering them secured.
  • The final major miscue in the report is a claim that the City and County will be denied its share of property taxes by purchasing the land and arena as part of this transaction. While I-91 in no way prohibits the City from purchasing land, the analysis is also 100% factually incorrect. The City and County will see no reduction in their gross property tax receipts as a result of purchasing the property and leasing it back to us.

So when we see our opponents and the Seattle Times Editorial Board raising the same issues time and again I would just encourage you all to keep in mind that the arena MOU was approved by the Seattle City Council and King County Council after a thorough vetting process, numerous public hearings and close scrutiny by two independent review panels, he wrote.

Hansen's proposal for a $490 million dollar arena is currently going through an environmental and economic analysis. The Memorandum of Understanding on the project was approved by both the City and County Councils last year, and signed by the King County Executive and Seattle Mayor.

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