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Tukwila arena group misses payment to city

The investment group interested in building a sports arena in Tukwila has missed a payment to the City.
Proposed Tukwila arena

TUKWILA - The investment group interested in building a sports arena in Tukwila has missed a payment to the city.

Rachel Bianchi, spokesperson for Tukwila, acknowledges that the group led by Connecticut investment banker Ray Bartoszek signed a deal to reimburse the city for "peer review around the environmental analysis" and fees associated with project management. The contract calls for up Bartoszek's company, RLB Holdings, to repay the city up to $300,000 for the services rendered and that Tukwila bills RLB in increments of $50,000.

However, Bianchi says, after the City received an initial payment of $20,000, the current invoice of $50,000 has yet to be paid. In total, says Bianchi, the city has spent $83,369.52 on the review of the arena proposal south of I-405. She says that means Bartoszek's group still owes Tukwila $63,359.52.

Bartoszek tells KING 5 he recently extended options to purchase the needed property near the Tukwila Sounder Station despite declining to bid on an NHL expansion franchise during the summer.

Bartoszek also strongly suggested Tukwila will have no problem getting paid and the bill will be taken care of soon. Bartoszek says it is likely a clerical issue that led to the confusion, but acknowledges work on the privately funded project has slowed down after a key investor pulled out.

Bianchi added that she believed RLB is "working hard on pulling their project together and "we'll be ready to go once they come back to us with the next round of environmental review."

The NHL, despite the lack of bids on expansion, remains interested in the market. However, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly reiterated last week in an email to KING 5 that the league is not interested in a refurbished KeyArena as a long term solution.

The idea has been kicked about in recent months after KING 5 broke the story about an AECOM study that suggested KeyArena could be renovated for the NBA and NHL at a cost of $285 million under the "existing footprint and roof structure of KeyArena."

However, Terry McLaughlin doubts that could be possible.

"It does not compute," said McLaughlin, who has looked at the arena from both sides of the debate, first as the deputy director of Seattle Center and as the executive vice president of the Sonics before they departed for Oklahoma City in 2008. He now sits on the board of the Washington State Convention Center.

He says 2005 estimates put a full renovation for a basketball and hockey footprint at between $200 million to $300 million. McLaughlin says the roof and buttress system have always been factors in how to best re-purpose the building.

The Key was first known as the Seattle Center Coliseum and constructed for the 1962 World's Fair. A 1995 renovation lowered the floor and added amenities at a cost of $73.4 million. That renovation also severely limited the hockey sight lines of the building and led to the departure of the WHL's Seattle Thunderbirds. McLaughlin says now, in his mind, a full remodel of the existing structure is almost cost prohibitive.

"You'd have to tear out the bowl," said McLaughlin. "The geometry of the building also makes it rough. You can't go much deeper than what's there and that makes the NHL idea tough."

He says, in theory, a developer could tear out the Northwest Rooms and skate par to add to the footprint, but that would be a massive remodel costing close to the price of a brand new arena on par with current similar venues. A city budget analyst in August put a pricetag on the potential loss of revenue for the city during a Key renovation at anywhere between $5.8 million and $21 million over a three-year period.

McLaughlin, who acknowledges that he did some work for SoDo arena investor Chris Hansen a couple of years ago, says they are factors that naturally have to be explored as the Seattle City Council deliberates on whether to move forward with the SoDo proposal.

The council could vote on a street vacation for the arena as early as January. It's the last key vote on the project. Outgoing Seattle City Council Transportation Chair Tom Rasmussen says he's already had interest from existing council members about the status of the vote. Councilmember Mike O'Brien, who was a proponent of the SoDo arena and voted to approve the arena's Memorandum of Understanding in 2012, is expected in City Hall circles to be named the next transportation chair.