Seattle group leaves questions unanswered on timeline to build new arena

Chris Hansen following Apr. 3 meeting in New York with NBA. (Photo: Morgan Ragan)

NEW YORK – How long will it take to build a new Seattle Sonics arena?

Following their presentation before league brass, the Seattle contingent led by prospective Sonics owner Chris Hansen, Mayor Mike McGinn and King County Executive Dow Constantine briefed the press on the potential deal to move the Sacramento Kings north.

The group expressed confidence following their meeting with the NBA’s relocation and finance committee, but that major question was still left open to interpretation.

“There is a process for going through that,” McGinn responded when asked whether the Seattle stadium could be built within two years. “We are methodically taking the steps we need to move forward with an arena. And of course, we have to go through the environmental review and understand that. And with any major project, there are people who will raise questions, but we are dealing with those in a thorough and methodical way.

“I can’t speak to the exact timeline,” McGinn continued when pressed for a target date to open a new Sonics arena. “My understanding is it’s a two, three-year timeframe. We’re aiming for two, but things can get a little bit longer, so I wouldn’t make an ironclad promise.”

Constantine handled the questions more directly, but still left open a few doors. The King County Executive said that the environmental review would be completed by early November.

“It will be relatively quick after that,” Constantine said. “With the final transactions between the city and the owners group exchanging real properties interest in, I believe, the middle of 2017. But the arena will be open by then.

“It is much sooner than a Sacramento arena would be able to be ready,” he added. “Because we’ve already got two years of property acquisitions and other work into this.”

The Hansen-Ballmer group has two hurdles to overcome before breaking ground on a new arena in the SoDo area of Seattle, the first being an I-91 compliance. According to law, any sports arena using public financing must guarantee a profit.

“The city will, in fact, have a positive return on their investment over the course of this agreement with the owners, so we feel good about that,” Constantine said.

While the courts threw out the Longshoreman’s union case against the city of Seattle, it is pending an appeal. If that is denied, it can begin all over again in November, following the completion of the EIS process, potentially tying up the project long term.

In his brief comments to the media, Hansen said that he had been working on this project for 883 days, but declined to state when the Maloofs were brought into the deal.

If the Seattle group has been working on an arena plan longer than Sacramento, it’s not by much.

In April of 2011, the city embarked on a one-year journey to build a new entertainment and sports center in Sacramento’s urban core. But to get to that date, California’s capital had already begun discussions on a new arena and brought in a new potential buyer in Ron Burkle, who is part of this year’s prospective ownership group.

The news of a potential sale was a shock to many, but something Sacramento appeared to have planned for.
With little opposition in place, the city of Sacramento has a clear path to complete a stadium by the start of the 2016-17 season.

There are two local attorneys threatening suit over the city’s $258-million subsidy. However, most legal experts believe that has little chance of slowing the process.

If it comes down to who can build a stadium first, Sacramento may have an advantage.


James Ham

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