Emails and documents released by the city show that there's a far more focused effort to bring an NBA team back to Seattle and build a new arena than previously known.
A Dec. 13 agenda for a meeting between the parties shows they were talking about details such as a "Review of Basic Deal Structure," "Financing Issues," including "City Debt Capacity," and "Security for Public Financing."
The documents, released Friday to The Seattle Times under a public-disclosure request, also provide the first glimpse of how the largely unknown hedge-fund manager, 44-year-old Seattle native Christopher Hansen, approached the city about his desire to buy an NBA team and build an arena south of Safeco Field.
In an initial email laying out his vision, Hansen told city officials an arena could be built with minimal impact on taxpayers.
"Thanks for spending the time today guys," Hansen wrote in a June 16 email to Julie McCoy, chief of staff to Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, and Ethan Raup, the mayor's director of policy and operations.
"I really appreciate it and look forward to making this happen in Seattle," wrote Hansen, a multimillionaire who built a fortune in the private investment world. "I genuinely mean that and am confident that with a little effort and creativity we can find a solution that meets our needs and the City's /State's desire to get a team back to Seattle without a large public outlay."
Hansen offered to provide information on "recent municipal arena deals that have been put together and some of the direct and indirect contributions that the city can make that don't require incremental taxes or direct public funding."
Those issues were on the table at the key Dec. 13 meeting, which was attended by McCoy and Raup and set up by Carl Hirsh, a New Jersey arena consultant hired by the city in July.
It was held at the law offices of Foster Pepper, one of Seattle's prominent law firms. An attorney with the firm, Hugh Spitzer, had been hired by the city in September to provide advice on selling construction bonds.
Hansen has acquired property south of Safeco Field's parking garage, between South Massachusetts and South Holgate streets east of First Avenue South, records show. While sources have previously said at least one business owner has declined to sell, the issue of the city using its power of eminent domain to acquire the land is no longer a concern of Hansen's group, Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes said during a recent interview with The Times editorial board. Holmes did not elaborate, but his comments suggest Hansen's representatives have reached some sort of agreements.
Although the documents don't mention how Seattle would obtain a team, they show the city has been following developments in Sacramento, which is under a March 1 deadline to come up with a viable proposal to build an arena for the Sacramento Kings. In September, Hirsh emailed a copy of an Associated Press story to Raup that outlined the Sacramento situation. If Sacramento fails, the Kings could be playing in Seattle next fall if the city and Hansen reach an agreement, according to a Seattle City Hall source who has been briefed on the matter.
In addition, National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman has expressed a strong interest in placing a team in Seattle, leading to widespread speculation that the financially struggling Phoenix Coyotes could be moved here.
Obviously much still needs to be worked out, but an announcement of an arena plan and the opportunity to bring the NBA and NHL to Seattle could come as early as April, and this is no April Fools' joke.
"Yes we can. Yes you can write that the Coyotes could move to Quebec City next year. But you must also add that other cities, as well as Quebec, could inherit the Coyotes...Seattle, like Quebec, [is a city where an] arena has yet to be built. Existing infrastructure - the Colosseum and the Key Arena, which served as home to the SuperSonics basketball club before being relocated to Oklahoma City - could serve as a temporary solution.
Our relationship with the people of Quebec are still very good and their application is not worse than it was. But I think the passion with which you follow the case and the interest for the return of the League in Quebec gave the impression that things were more advanced than they actually are."
"Our efforts are serious. There are several private groups are competing to build an arena, and what motivates them at the base is an NHL franchise," said an influential person working with the group to give Seattle franchises for both the NBA and the NHL. In order not to undermine the efforts of investors, this insider of the Seattle sports scene prefers to remain anonymous.
But on the West Coast, the NHL is not a consolation prize for the NBA. "This is a very attractive market, there is a beautiful story of hockey here. We have many links to and rivalry with Vancouver. And we have an incredible number of billionaires in the region who are willing to support professional teams," says the businessman, who now devotes much of his energy to drive this. "The desire of the business community is to have two sports: basketball and hockey. The two go together."
"I am aware of the involvement of several investors. This is very serious," says Craig Kinzer, a well known property developer in the region and former president of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce. "For our investors, it is natural to aim for the NBA and the NHL... To be profitable here, it takes all three (NBA, NHL and arena)." Investors feel in recent months that all of these conditions could be met shortly, the businessman concludes.
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn signed a $19,500-per-month contract in July with sports-facilities consultant Carl Hirsh to advise the city on the development of a new sports facility that could draw an NBA team back to town.
Hirsh said many pieces remain to be put together to make a new arena work in Seattle. And he reiterated what the mayor and council members have said, that there is no firm proposal. But he said the developer is very motivated (Chris Hansen).
"Do I think it will be easy? No. Do I think we can put together a deal? Yes."
A deal also might help resurrect the political fortunes of McGinn, who in August lost the fight over the waterfront tunnel, which he stridently opposed, and suffered defeat of a proposed $60 vehicle-license fee, which he favored.
Christian Sinderman, a political consultant, said that while the number of people who want professional basketball returned to Seattle is high, the number who think it's essential is low.
Building a new arena and bringing a team back "is not a political game-changer," Sinderman said.
But he did acknowledge that if an arena got built under terms favorable to the city, "It could show that this mayor is capable of cutting a deal and delivering."
Don Levin has watched the Puget Sound’s arena talk closely, and acknowledges now from his office in Chicago, it’s time for the people to step forward. “Time is of the essence,” says the owner of the American Hockey League’s Chicago Wolves. “A city needs to step up.”
“We know Don Levin. A good man and a good hockey owner,” wrote NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly in an email Wednesday. But, he added, “We have had no recent discussions or communications with him.”
Daly also denied that the league had any further discussions with a Seattle ownership group. Multiple sources say there is one other investor or group, besides Levin, interested in bringing the NHL to the Seattle-area.
Levin said he can’t build the arena, but would like to partner with an NBA ownership group to fill a new facility. He denied recent suggestions that he’d been lobbying or working with an NBA group to make that happen.
He also said he hasn’t been contacted by a San Francisco-based hedge fund, Valiant Partners (Chris Hansen), about the fund's recent purchase of three acres south of Safeco Field. Valiant bought the land from a Seattle businessman for $21.6 million, almost $3 million more than the land's assessed value. The deal for the parcel closed on December 6th. The land is located just south of the Safeco Field parking garage. The seller has declined comment on the deal.
Washington state lawmakers are working on a new proposal to bring NBA basketball and the National Hockey League to Seattle, and are optimistic a new approach could work. When the Sonics were up for grabs for years ago, lawmakers refused to even vote on committing taxpayer money to help pay for a new arena.
Now, state Rep. Mike Hope (R, Lake Stevens) is trying a different approach. The idea is to charge NBA basketball and NHL hockey a license fee each time a team plays in the potential new arena. The money would be used as collateral to sell $62 million worth of bonds to help pay for a new arena in the Seattle area.
Rep. Hope said he believes the proposal will get bipartisan support because no taxpayer money is involved. "When you're looking at this, it's not going to affect a single person in Washington state," Hope said. "The people who are going to pay for this are the athletes themselves." He said the plan is similar to what other states like Tennessee and Ohio have done to help finance new arenas.
He's drafting legislation now and believes there will be a hearing in the next few weeks. The $62 million the plan is expected to raise is just a fraction of what a new arena would cost, but for supporters, every bit helps.
A wealthy San Francisco hedge-fund manager is the lead investor seeking to build a sports arena south of Safeco Field to lure an NBA basketball team back to Seattle, according to two sources briefed on the effort.
Christopher Hansen, 43, who has roots in Seattle and now heads Valiant Capital Management LLC, in San Francisco, is working with an investor group whose proposal has yet to be publicly unveiled.
Hansen, described by one source as a multimillionaire, could not be reached for comment Friday. He previously lived in Seattle's Leschi neighborhood, public records show.
Hansen is working with a Bellevue man who would like to bring an NHL professional hockey team to Seattle to play in the arena, according to the source, who did not know the name of the Eastside participant. Both men understand they need each other to make the proposal work, the source said.
Among those involved in the Sodo plan is Wally Walker, the former Seattle Sonics player and team executive, sources said. Walker was a minority owner of the Sonics, serving as the team's president and general manager from 1994 until the team was sold to Clay Bennett in 2006. Bennett moved the team to Oklahoma City after failing to secure a new arena in Seattle and reaching a financial settlement with the city of Seattle. Bennett said KeyArena, where the Sonics played, lacked the amenities required to support an NBA franchise.
If built, the arena would add a third professional sports facility in the Sodo area, joining Safeco, home of the Seattle Mariners, and CenturyLink Field, home of the Seattle Seahawks and Seattle Sounders FC.