Are the Sonics here yet? No, and patience is critical

This proposal looks like it will work, but nothing will be easy.

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This proposal looks like it will work, but nothing will be easy.

Given the heartaches, ripoffs, failures and boredom that have attended big-time sports in Seattle in recent years, we are overdue for an oil tanker’s worth of fairy dust.

A high five? How about a high 290 million to Chris Hansen?

Fergawdsakes, he was a 130-pound wrestler at Blanchet High School, and Thursday he lifted his old hometown on his back. Something remarkable happened in Seattle sports, and it didn’t involve having to trade a stiff. 

Private capital did what it always should do for most civic projects: Take the lead. Keep hands out of the public till.

Hansen, a skinny 44-year-old sugar daddy who wants to see some Sonics hoops again, stood up when others sat down. If the letter is to be believed that was distributed by his local PR firm Thursday, “If you believe in what we are trying to do, the time has come to stand up and be heard. Go Sonics!”

So feel free to whoop. When you’re done, here’s what’s next: The hardest part.


If this proposal — and that’s all it is — becomes an arena on First Avenue South, nearly in front of the office of the last owner Seattle was excited about, Howard Schultz, it’s going to take a damn long time.

As one person who was involved in the process said, not wanting to be quoted, “This is a stake in the ground. That’s it.”

NBA Kings coming from Sacramento? Very unlikely; the league doesn’t want to fail in a one-horse town and send the franchise to busy markets in Southern California or Seattle. NBA Hornets coming from New Orleans? No; new local owners are expected shortly. NHL Coyotes coming from Phoenix? Not to the temp site of KeyArena, which has only 11,000 unobstructed seats for hockey, and be stuck in it for three years.

Don’t dig out the old Payton jerseys yet.

Asked how long it would take to build an arena if ground were broken tomorrow, Carl Hirsch, the arena consultant hired by the city, was quick with the answer: “Two years.”

If you know Seattle, you know that before groundbreaking happens, the process of hearings, rezonings, mitigations, protests, objections, and general cantankerousness borne of smelling a swindle behind every stump, is going to take a year minimum.

And if some calculations regarding the “self-sustaining” revenues from taxes generated by the project prove to be wrong, tack on another year for recriminations and politicking.

It remains great news that private money is taking the biggest risk, even guaranteeing that arena revenue shortfalls that pay down the mortgage will be covered by investors, not taxpayers.

But despite the arrival of Hansen and the diligence done by city and county officials and staffers to reassure skeptics, two things remain unchanged from when I wrote about them last week:

  • NBA commissioner David Stern wants to use the vacancy in Seattle and the inevitable over-eagerness of its fans as leverage to squeeze better deals for vulnerable franchises from their governments — as the NFL uses the vacancy in Los Angeles. The longer Seattle stays unfulfilled, the better it is for the NBA.
  • Which among the Seahawks, Mariners, Sounders, Huskies football, an NBA team and an NHL team will be the sixth ticket in town.

The latter refers not just to the single-seat ticket buyer, but to the potential season-ticket purchasers, advertisers, sponsors, and broadcast outlets. Will there be, in three years, a market sufficiently robust to sustain all the enterprises?

Don’t know. Nobody knows. Officially, we’re in our first day of even imagining the possibility. But the thought is already in the heads of every franchise operator in town, including the University of Washington, which has a renovated stadium planned for 2013 that is also scheduled to retire its construction debt largely with pay-as-you-go revenues.

Neither of these issues are deal-stoppers. They are market complications added to a complicated logistical feat.  The reason it is complicated is because Hansen, according to officials, must secure an NBA team before the city and county begin their construction-bond commitments.

The idea is supposed to be that Hansen’s poaching and the governments’ help will happen concurrently, not in a linear way. But none of the Seattle parties will have control over the national and local market realities.

The parties have to move forward; $290 million for a civic project creates a huge amount of momentum.

It probably will work. For sure, it will be hard, and it will be a long way off.

Follow Art Thiel on Twitter at @Art_Thiel. Distributed by Sportspress Northwest.


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