Seattle’s NHL Hopes Dim as Arena Options Fade

And Then There Were None — Agatha Cristie

When hedge fund manager Chris Hansen burst upon the Seattle scene five years ago with an ambitious plan to build a multipurpose arena in downtown Seattle, a surprised fan base suddenly became energized. Still smarting after having lost the Supersonics to Oklahoma City three years earlier, Seattle was eager to see Hansen right the wrong perpetrated by Clay Bennett and his merry band of Oklahoma oil barons.

Not surprisingly, fans were enthused about the prospects of securing an NHL team as well:

With an ideal location in downtown Seattle identified, influential heavy-hitters like Hansen, former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and two members of the Nordstrom family involved and the wind at their backs, what could stop an arena from being built within the next few years?

Tailwinds turn to headwinds

The etymology of the phrase “talk is cheap” dates back to at least 1891 and may have been uttered by P.T. Barnum as early as 1856.

Whichever the case may be, the best laid plans of Hansen’s group have, at best, advanced at the speed of Alaska’s Hubbard Glacier. Hansen’s attempt to purchase the Sacramento Kings was rejected by the NBA, and the NHL Coyotes reached a deal to remain in the desert later that year, ending an oh-so-tantalizing opportunity.

Meanwhile, the SoDo arena process has taken so long that less than two years remain on a five-year agreement with the City of Seattle and King County without a grain of dirt having been turned. Although a vote by the City in January to vacate part of Occidental Avenue to facilitate the project could pave the way for construction to begin, other challenges remain, not the least of which is an anchor tenant or a clear path toward obtaining one. Furthermore, without a mechanism to allow an NHL-first scenario, prospects remain exceedingly dim.

Tukwila arena plan faltering

With SoDo arena progress inching forward and with the chances of relocation (both NHL and NBA) appearing increasingly unlikely, a new group spearheaded by investor/businessman Ray Bartoszek and former NBA greats Bill Russell and Fred Brown jumped into the fray early this year. Their goal: build a multi-purpose arena in the suburban city of Tukwila in order to house an expansion NHL team along with an (eventual) NBA franchise.

Predictably, social media reaction was highly positive:

A privately financed arena within 15 miles of downtown backed by high-profile individuals dedicated to bring back a treasured community asset (the Sonics) as well as fill a void in the NHL’s footprint that the league has almost begged Seattle to take. What could go wrong? Losing a principal investor, falling behind on paying the bills and teetering on the edge of collapse, that’s what.

Key Arena came and went in the blink of an eye

An option long considered dead stirred to life a couple of months ago after a study commissioned by the city of Seattle indicated Key Arena could be refurbished for $285 million — over $200 million cheaper than the proposed SoDo arena. In November, New Mexico-based M.T. Phoenix LLC expressed interest in financing the project, with spokesperson Christopher Brozovich stating the firm had the money and was “willing to spend it if it turns out to be a wise investment.”

Not so fast. According to KING 5’s Chris Daniels, the NHL does not consider a remodeled Key Arena a viable option.

Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly reiterated last week in an email to KING 5, that the league is not interested in a refurbished KeyArena as a long-term solution (

The report indicates that the “geometry of the building” makes it particularly difficult to retrofit for use by an NHL team.

What’s next?

The aforementioned City Council vote in January — absent any further delays or challenges — should clear the way for construction. However, the arena will not be built on spec, meaning a struggling team from either the NBA or NHL must be willing to move or the NHL reconsiders its stance on expansion for the project to finally reach fruition.

Will Seattle finally see the NHL come to town within the next few years? Your guess is as good as mine. Leave your thoughts below, or send a message to @McLaughlinWalt.