A strange sound could be heard Thursday during the press conference regarding a financial proposal for a new sports arena in Seattle.
It wasn’t raucous – the noise didn’t move any meters on the Richter Scale – but an occasion that finds Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and King County Executive Dow Constantine making remarks followed by the clapping of several dozen hands qualifies as momentous.
Although the possibility of an NBA team called the SuperSonics relocating to the Pacific Northwest was the source of most of the cheers, the good vibes at Seattle City Hall weren’t confined to basketball. Constantine drew applause when he referred to the Seattle Metropolitans as the first Stanley Cup winners from the United States.
Joked the executive: “It’s good to see we’ve got some Seattle Metropolitan fans with us.”
The centennial anniversary of the Metropolitans’ Stanley Cup championship will be celebrated in 2017, which is fitting: If a $450 million arena is actually built, the estimated arrival of an NHL franchise figures to be 2017.
Why so long? An NHL team likely won’t commit to play in Seattle without a new building awaiting it, and construction on a new building won’t begin unless Seattle gets a commitment from an NBA team.
“All the planets need to align,” said McGinn.
Things could move quickly – Sacramento is approaching a March 1 deadline for an area-financing proposal of its own – but while we’re waiting for the planets to align, it helps to remember the realities of this one. If arena plans in Sacramento fall through, the Kings will look toward moving to Anaheim, where a building and an NHL co-tenant for them already exist.
And once the Kings are off the table, then who? The New Orleans Hornets? It’s no secret the league-owned franchise is troubled, but it’s also no secret that NBA commissioner David Stern regards the quest to keep the Hornets in New Orleans as a personal challenge.
Seattle may have lost the Sonics, but New Orleans lost a third of its population in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. A commissioner acts as a sort of salesman for his sport, and yanking a team from a city still reeling from the most devastating recent natural disaster in American history is not good salesmanship.
McGinn removed himself from the discussion about securing a pro basketball franchise. That ball, the mayor stressed, is in the hands of Chris Hansen, the San Francisco investor whose offer to pay $290 million toward an arena in the stadium district has revived – OK, created – interest in the NBA’s return to Seattle.
Hansen didn’t participate in the pep rally disguised as a press conference, because, well, who knows? Maybe he’s camera shy. Given the tenuous state of the Kings’ arena situation, maybe he didn’t want to be seen as a publicity-seeking power broker determined to sabotage the NBA’s future in Sacramento.
In any case, the man with the plan to bring an unidentified version of the Sonics back to Seattle was absent Thursday from an event that dwelled on plans of bringing an unidentified version of the Sonics back to Seattle.
As for the plan: There’s a lot there, and lot there to like. Hansen and his investors cover the brunt of the construction cost, while assuming responsibility for overruns and shortfalls. The public’s side of the tab – $200 million – will be picked up by taxes generated from the building.
Put simply, if you’re a King County resident who despises everything about the NBA, and cares nothing about the NHL – and if you wouldn’t walk across the street to attend a concert, a rodeo, a motocross race, a religious jubilee, a national-championship figure skating competition or an NCAA tournament regional final – you’re off the hook. You’re not paying a single cent.
Still, logistical questions loom. Trucks carrying freight from the Port of Seattle and adjacent railroad yards demand quick access to I-5 – access that could be impeded by traffic problems exacerbated by NBA and NHL crowds attending games four or five nights a week from October to April.
Factor 81 Mariners dates into the stadium-district mix, and it’s a recipe for
Hansen’s proposal will be reviewed over the next month by a panel empowered to voice complaints and suggest alternatives. The applause heard Thursday contained a measure of “way to go” satisfaction, but even those in the rah-rah crowd understood a word was missing. There’s a long way to go.
“I’m out of the prediction business,” McGinn said.
Each to his own, Mr. Mayor.
I predict a Seattle arena will open in 2017, and that it’ll house an NBA team called the Sonics, and an NHL team called the Metropolitans.
May the planets align.