The city of Seattle and the man who oversaw the Staples Center project in Los Angeles have entered into an agreement to renovate the existing KeyArena in Seattle Center for $600 million in private funding, which could make the building NBA-ready as soon as 2020, according to multiple reports.
The Seattle City Council received on Tuesday morning a Memorandum of Understanding between now former Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and an Oak View Group led by Tim Leiweke, who has previously managed NBA arenas in Los Angeles and Toronto as president and CEO of both the Anschutz Entertainment Group and Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment. The Seattle-based arena would be equipped to host NBA and NHL games as well as other entertainment ventures for decades to come.
“I think the most important part of this MOU is the fact it states very clearly to the leagues that this project is going to happen, we do have a deal with the city, they can make a deal,” Leiweke told TSN. “They are very focused ultimately not only on building a new arena here and giving us the partnership and certainty in order to do that.
“But more importantly it sends a very strong message now to the NBA and to the NHL that everyone worried about, ‘Yeah will it ever get done with the city? Will they ever be able to get to the finish line? Will you ever possibly get this deal done within the politics of Seattle and the Seattle process as everyone likes to call it?’ Guess what? Game, set and match. We clearly send a message to everyone that this will get done, this will get built and we are ready now to go get one and hopefully soon, two teams.”
A press conference scheduled for Tuesday announcing the arrangement was canceled after Murray abruptly resigned amid accusations of sexual abuse, but city spokesperson Joe Mirabella assured The Seattle Times that the agreement was formally transferred and is now under the city council’s control.
Before anyone gets their hopes too far up about an impending SuperSonics return to the city at the start of next decade, NBA spokesman Mike Bass issued this statement to KING5: “The NBA is not involved in the ongoing Seattle arena process, and we have no plans to expand at this time.”
This remains consistent with the league’s stance on potential expansion in recent years, although NBA commissioner Adam Silver did tell The Players’ Tribune last month, “I don’t want to put a precise timeline on it, but it’s inevitable at some point we’ll start looking at growth of franchises. That’s always been the case in this league, and Seattle will no doubt be on a short list of cities we’ll look at.”
It is also important to note that Seattle native and billionaire Chris Hansen entered into a similar arrangement with the city in 2012, planning to build an NBA-ready arena in the city’s industrial district. That deal expires in December, although Hansen has filed for an extension. That extension, though, was considered to be contingent on the city’s ability to find a partner willing to renovate KeyArena.
Seattle lost its NBA franchise in 2008 after former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz failed to convince the state to finance a $220 million KeyArena renovation project. He sold the SuperSonics to Oklahoma City businessman Clay Bennett, who also failed to secure $500 million in public funding for a new arena, and then moved Kevin Durant and company to OKC and changed their name to the Thunder.
KeyArena played host to the Sonics for much of their 41-year tenure in Seattle, including all three Finals appearances and the 1979 championship run. Should the NBA decide to expand in three years, the existence of a workable arena was always the biggest obstacle for a return to Seattle, but should the OVG’s plan come to fruition by 2020, the city will be ready and waiting for the Sonics again.
Seattle may be even closer to landing an NHL team. According to TSN, OVG has lined up investors for a Seattle-based hockey team, including filmmaker Jerry Bruckheimer, and the NHL has mutual interest.
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