A Seattle City Council committee has approved final transactions documents for a new entertainment and sports complex, likely paving the way for an NHL team to become an anchor tenant. The vote was 7-0.
The full council is expected to approve the Oak View Group's (OVG) plan to privately finance and build a $700 million new Arena at Seattle Center on September 24, a huge step in awarding an NHL expansion franchise to Seattle later this year.
Seattle City Council's Select Committee on Civic Arenas reviewed the proposal for months, a nearly two-year-long process that ultimately could lead to over a billion dollars in investment in the Emerald City.
The stakes were clearly high, as evidenced by the people in the council chambers on Friday morning, including NHL Seattle’s CEO Tod Leiweke and Dave Tippett, OVG's Francesca Bodie and Lance Lopes, and Seattle Center Director Robert Nellams.
Leiweke told the Seattle City Council and fans on Friday, "we will not let you down."
The committee's vote came one day after a deadline for an appeal of the environmental review of the mega-project, which was considered by some city hall staffers a bit of a surprise.
The Council and Executive branch have reviewed the possibility of a new building at the KeyArena site for nearly two years, ever since a failed vote on a street vacation request for a similar building in Seattle's SoDo neighborhood back in 2015.
The process gained steam after OVG, led by Tim Leiweke, announced it had an NHL investment group ready to make a bid on Seattle's behalf. That group, led by David Bonderman and Jerry Bruckheimer, has a $650 million bid for an expansion franchise to begin in 2020. The group, which calls itself the Seattle Hockey Partners, is slated to give a presentation to the NHL's executive committee eight days after the final council vote.
Seattle has discussed building a new sports arena ever since a Howard Schultz-led Sonics ownership group started lobbying for a new one back in 2006.
"We did not get involved to lose $60 million with no light at the end of the tunnel," Shultz claimed at the time.
Rejected, his group sold the franchise to another group led by Oklahoma City businessman Clay Bennett, who pitched building a publicly financed building in Renton. Rebuffed, he moved the team in 2008.
Since the move, there have been proposals to build in other places like Pier 46, Tukwila, Bellevue, South Seattle, and SoDo. The expected green light would allow for construction to begin as early as October, but the city has included a clause not to allow demolition of the existing KeyArena until the NHL franchise is awarded.
Leiweke acknowledged Friday the length of time it has taken to get to this point.
"This has been a long and arduous process," Leiweke said, noting there is still the final vote. "One by one, my mantra in the office has been one miracle at a time, and um, I think after 14 years this qualifies as a minor miracle to get to this point."
Leiweke said the group's presentation to the NHL has "strengthened because of today, strengthened because of local investors, and I can't wait for that day."
He joked it also helps their cause among ownership and fan base spread across the US and Canada.
"First thing we're going to say, good news, eh?" Leiweke joked. "The fact it was unanimous, it speaks to the great work the city did, and our staff did."
Councilmember Debora Juarez, who chaired the committee which reviewed the proposal, declined to take credit on Friday.
"I don't like to start every sentence with I or me," she said after the vote.
However, her office is filled with binders about this particular project, and her colleagues have publicly credited her with doing the heavy lifting.
"I did not feel any pressure. I did not because I have not given any promises or guarantees to anybody in particular, the NHL, I felt like I would rather have done it right, then have done it quickly," said Juarez.
Juarez also acknowledged the vote on Sept. 24, while coincidentally referencing the past words of Shultz years earlier.
"A bit of an exhale," she said. "It's some sunshine, some light at the end of the tunnel."
Eleven-year-old Jaina Goscinski, of Redmond, wasn't alive when this whole Arena debate began, but is thrilled about the current status. She plays hockey with the Washington Wild girls team and testified in the chambers for the key vote.
"I love playing it," said Goscinski. "I've always wanted to have an NHL team here, and I have to go to Canada a lot."
"I'll be really excited, my mind will just be blown," Goscinski added about the new Arena.
OVG says it could open the new Arena by October of 2020. OVG will commit to the Seattle Center site for 39 years and spend $40 million on transportation mitigation. It has also committed $10 million to YouthCare, in addition to paying for the relocation of the businesses affected by the construction.