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Seattle Announces Plans for New Sports Arena

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SEATTLE (AP) — Christopher Hansen is making a $290 million proposal to his hometown that could be the impetus for a new sports arena that could bring the NBA and NHL to Seattle.

All he needs is city and county approval equaling $200 million and the two franchises to make it a reality.

Hansen, a hedge-fund manager based in San Francisco and a Seattle native, submitted a proposal to the city on Thursday that calls for $290 million in private investment toward the construction of a new arena that would cost between $450 and $500 million. Hansen and his investment group would also be responsible for the purchase of an NBA franchise and finding a partner interested in bringing an NHL franchise to Seattle as well.

The proposal represents the first significant step toward solving the arena problem that was at the root of the SuperSonics’ move from Seattle to Oklahoma City following the 2008 NBA season leaving behind 41 years of history. The proposal will now go before a review board — a group of community leaders that includes one-time SuperSonics player and coach Lenny Wilkens — with King County executive Dow Constantine hoping their review can be completed within a month.

According to a letter submitted by the Hansen, the remaining construction and development costs would be financed by the city and King County using taxes and revenues generated by the new facility and rent charged to the teams playing in the arena — money that will not exist if the arena isn’t built. City officials are adamant that there will be no new public taxes needed for the building and the city’s portion of the investment will be capped at $200 million with any additional cost overruns paid by the private investors.

From there, Hansen’s proposal would need city and county approval. City Councilman Tim Burgess believes the council could be complete with its arena review as early as June. But even with ultimate approval no shovels will be going into the land just south of Safeco Field until an anchor tenant is in hand with a 30-year lease agreement that includes a no-relocation clause. City officials say their projections for how the financing plan would work are based off having both an NHL and NBA team.

“There will be no arena unless there is an agreement to get a team here to occupy that arena over a very long term,” Constantine said at an afternoon press conference that was part pep rally.

The amount of liability Hansen and his investment group is taking on is somewhat staggering and appears to comply with a voter passed initiative in 2006 that prohibited Seattle from supporting teams with taxes unless such investments yielded a profit.

City officials say the $290 million in private investment would be the third-most among NBA or NHL arenas. It would be built on land Hansen already owns parcels in Seattle’s SoDo neighborhood where the Seahawks and Mariners already play.

“I am confident this proposal will be looked on favorably by both leagues and sincerely believe that together we can accomplish the goal of securing NBA and NHL franchises for our community,” Hansen wrote in his proposal.

Seattle is the only top 15 media market in the country not to have at least three franchises in the four major professional leagues and Thursday’s announcement would appear to ratchet up pressure in places like Sacramento, New Orleans and Phoenix where their franchises face uncertain futures. Documents obtained through a public records request from the city of Seattle show that Hansen is paying attention to what’s happening in Sacramento, where a March 1 deadline looms for submitting plans to the NBA for funding a new arena.

The lynchpin of Sacramento’s arena plan — a proposal to divert and privatize parking revenues to cover roughly $200 million of the arena’s costs — is tentatively scheduled for a full City Council vote on Feb. 28.

Think BIG Sacramento, a regional initiative for a new arena launched by Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson, denounced Hansen’s moves calling them “publicity stunts aimed at derailing Sacramento’s process to build an arena.”

But the NHL’s Coyotes in Phoenix and the NBA’s Hornets in New Orleans are both currently owned by their leagues, although each league has strongly expressed its desire to find local ownership to keep those teams in those markets. A public records request by The Associated Press found that Seattle mayor Mike McGinn’s office has not had documented contact with either the NBA or NHL about a team coming to Seattle.

McGinn reiterated Thursday that the responsibility of dealing with the individual leagues is on Hansen and his partners, not the city or county. But he acknowledged this is as close as the area has been to solving its arena issue since the Sonics’ messy divorce.

“I’m out of the prediction business. I’m not going into the prediction business on this one,” McGinn said.

– Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. Follow Tim Booth on Twitter: http://twitter.com/ByTimBooth

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