The NHL to Seattle: An Arena Update

When last we discussed this subject, the post-morems were freshly written over the death of Seattle’s NHL dreams.

Seattle failed to submit an expansion application

Long a purported favorite for NHL expansion, none of the rumored three groups vying for Seattle’s franchise rights submitted an application prior to the NHL’s self-imposed July 20th deadline. Out of 16 candidates, only Las Vegas and Quebec City ultimately applied and paid the $10 million application fee. Unless something dramatic happens to change the equation, an expansion franchise will not be coming to the Emerald City.

Seattle’s hopes to land an NHL team may not be completely dashed. Thirteen instances of relocation have happened in the NHL’s history, with the Atlanta Thrashers move to Winnipeg in 2011 the most recent example. During the 1990s alone, four teams changed cities. With the league clearly wanting another team in the Pacific Northwest to expand its footprint and provide a natural rival for the Vancouver Canucks, it makes sense to keep that door wide open.

But is the door actually open? The following is a look at the latest on arena developments in and around Seattle.

The SoDo option

Hedge fund manager Chris Hansen has spearheaded a long-running effort to build an arena in the heart of Seattle. Although substantial progress was made during the first few years, the process has since slowed to a crawl, largely because the Memorandum of Understanding between Hansen’s group, the city of Seattle and King county requires an NBA team in order to move forward. A deal to purchase the Sacramento Kings in 2013 and re-launch the Seattle Supersonics was ultimately rejected by the league, and there have been no further serious opportunities revealed publicly.

Political support from city leadership remains reasonably solid. The mayor remains in favor of the project, and for the most part, so does the city council.

An environmental impact statement released in May has cleared the way for construction to begin, and a critical city council vote is slated to occur sometime next year. However, without a team in play, there isn’t a mechanism to break ground.

With the MOU set to expire in less than two years, hopes are beginning to dim on the chances that the SoDo option will be realized.

The Bellevue option

Behind-the-scenes discussions and negotiations for an arena in nearby Bellevue, Washington appear to be over. According to Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times, the project is dead.

The Tukwila option

Although not as desirable a location, a group headed by NBA greats Bill Russell and Fred Brown and Connecticut-based investment banker Ray Bartoszek is attempting to build an arena in the Seattle suburb of Tukwila. However, Baker reports that a lead unnamed investor pulled out of the project in early July.

Per the Times report:

Tukwila officials were caught off guard when Bartoszek didn’t apply for a team. Records show Mayor Jim Haggerton and top city planners kept asking through the July 20 deadline whether Bartoszek needed a letter of support for his application.

Tukwila spokeswoman Rachel Bianchi says the city merely assumed Bartoszek was applying and nobody thought to confirm it.

By mid-July, Bartoszek agreed to pay up to $350,000 to the city for consulting fees, in $50,000 installments, as bills came due for environmental impact studies of the project. But projected expenses are now pushing those limits, meaning a renewed commitment from Bartoszek could be needed. I’m told we’ll know by month’s end whether he’ll continue on, depending on his landing new investor money.

The Key Arena option

A recent report by Geoff Baker indicated that Christopher Brozovich and the investment group M.T. Phoenix LLC approached Seattle mayor Ed Murray expressing interest in spending $285 million to renovate Key Arena in order to attract the NHL and NBA. Per Baker’s piece:

In an interview Wednesday, Brozovich said M.T. Phoenix is “still interested in the project” and would explore financing the entire $285 million, but city officials have yet to respond to his letter. He’d tried unsuccessfully to reach Chris Gregorich, who until recently had been the mayor’s chief of staff and lead representative on NHL issues.

According to Baker, Tim Burgess of the city council “expressed his frustration about the agreement that they’re locked into with Chris Hansen”, which explains why the mayor’s office has not responded to the inquiry. Nevertheless, renovating Key Arena would seem to be the simplest and most logical of all the options remaining on the table.

What do you think? Will Seattle manage to rise above the clatter of multiple competing options and figure out how to build an arena? If so, what teams are the most likely to explore relocation over the next several years? Leave your thoughts below, or message me @McLaughlinWalt.