This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.
Basketball fans have every right to be excited about a new proposal for bringing an NBA team back to Seattle, which lost the Sonics to Oklahoma City in 2008.
An arena site has been purchased. A rich Seattle native and other investors are willing to put up $290 million of their own money toward building an 18,000-seat facility, and they’re offering to pay for any cost overruns or revenue shortfalls. The remainder of the $500 million cost would be paid by team rent and taxes generated by the arena. The investment team would buy an NBA team and recruit an NHL team.
Taxpayers wouldn’t be asked to come up with a dime for any of it. And the NBA team would pay to play in KeyArena for the two years it would take to build the new facility just south of the Safeco Field parking garage.
What’s not to like?
If the deal proposed by hedge-fund manager Chris Hansen is as good as it looks, Seattle and King County lawmakers should grab it. It might be a long time before they get as good a chance to bring pro basketball back to the Emerald City. According to King County Executive Dow Constantine, only two other pro sports arenas in the country would have more private investment.
One hang-up could be the teams; the investment group won’t move forward unless it can bring them to Seattle. The NBA has said it has no plans to expand, but two teams might be available to move. Sacramento could lose the Kings unless it comes up with a viable proposal by March 1 for a new arena, and the league-owned New Orleans Hornets might be another option. The Seattle arena plan also calls for bringing in pro hockey, and the NHL-owned Phoenix team is a possibility.
What does this proposal mean for the Tacoma Dome? A study to be conducted for the city, Pierce County and the Tacoma-Pierce County Economic Development Board is supposed to look at what should be done with the aging facility, including the feasibility of making improvements to bring in an NBA or NHL team.
The study is still worth doing. The Seattle plan might fall through, but even if it doesn’t, the Dome isn’t getting any younger. Planning for future uses and figuring out what kind of investment might be needed to keep it viable makes a lot of sense, whatever happens in Seattle.