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Leading investor in Seattle arena project stresses patience


Posted Jun 19 2012 4:19PM - Updated Jun 19 2012 5:46PM

SEATTLE (AP) -- Chris Hansen sees the groundswell of support that seems to be developing in the community behind his push for a new arena that could bring the NBA back to Seattle.

The leading investor in the project hopes those supporters don't become disillusioned if it ends up taking five to seven years for pro basketball to return if Hansen's current arena proposal is approved by local lawmakers.

"We keep saying it, and I think people are listening and hearing us say it, but they're probably hopeful it happens before then," Hansen said in an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday morning. "I think they're so excited about the prospect of us getting the deal through that they haven't thought about the patience required on the other end.

"I'm sure there could be some disillusionment if this takes a long time. That's one of the things that worries me."

Hansen's arena proposal, which calls for nearly $300 million in private investment for the $500 million facility, is being vetted by the Seattle City Council and King County Council. The public investment is capped at $200 million and would come from taxes and revenues generated through the new facility. They would be paid through 30-year bonds and any franchise that relocates to Seattle would be required to sign a non-relocation agreement that would span the life of those bonds.

Hansen spoke before the county council later Tuesday and will speak before the City Council on Wednesday.

One question Hansen will not be able to answer is when a team might be coming back to the Puget Sound area if the proposal is approved. Hansen said he expects NBA franchises to become available for relocation in the next five years and that the key is for his group to be a viable option when a franchise begins looking for a new home. That means having an approved arena plan and all preliminary work done or in the process of completion so a shovel can go in the ground on the new facility when a team is acquired.

Hansen declined to talk about specific franchises or details about discussions with the NBA.

"With the different opportunities that are out there, our job is to stand up and make the best case for Seattle," Hansen said. "It's not to be predatory and go out there and wrestle a franchise loose from some town where the ownership group wants to keep it there. It's when the decision is made that they would like to relocate, we would like to be the option for that relocation."

Hansen's proposal has been centered on returning the NBA to Seattle. But he also is hopeful of bringing aboard a partner interested in bringing the NHL to Seattle as well as developing the area around the proposed arena to give fans dining and entertainment options.

"Part of the sports experience that we appreciate as fans is having places to hang out with your friends before and after the game that are in close proximity. Being able to grab a bite to eat before the game or meet up and celebrate after and grab a beer is part of sports," Hansen said. "It's vital to the fan experience and that's why I'm interested in doing it. I'm not looking at this as an alternative stream of revenues."

While Hansen, who grew up in Seattle and runs investment firm Valliant Capital in San Francisco, has been the public face of the arena proposal, his plan gained a strong backbone last week when he announced that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer would be part of his investment team for the arena and a franchise. Brothers Peter and Erik Nordstrom, members of a Seattle family that owned the NFL's Seattle Seahawks from 1976-1988, are also part of the investment team. But Hansen said Tuesday that the other members of the group would likely remain silent until a team is acquired.

"I hope people appreciate that Steve and Pete and Erik Nordstrom were willing to come forward at this time when we don't actually have something to invest in, other than some land, because they think it's a good statement for the community and they're really supportive of what we're trying to do," Hansen said.

Among the loudest objectors to the plan has been the Port of Seattle. At a hearing Tuesday, Port Commissioner Tom Albro referred to the arena plan in its proposed location as a "jobs killer."

The Seattle Mariners also objected after the proposal was first announced, arguing the site of the arena just south of Safeco Field would cause significant traffic issues. Hansen said he has met with the Mariners since the franchise sent its letter in early April to city and county leaders.

"I hope that if we're successful we can be good neighbors and find ways to make the arena a net positive for their organization and their fans," Hansen said.

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