This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.
These are the times that try Northwest basketball fans’ souls. Four years after Seattle’s NBA team was moved to Oklahoma City, it’s playing for the championship.
Besides rooting for the Miami Heat, what are Sonics fans to do?
Well, they could always root for the guys hoping to bring another NBA team to town – which thousands of fans did last week at a big downtown rally.
The likeliest candidate is the Sacramento Kings, a franchise that is in the same kind of situation the Sonics were in before they moved: a dispute over a new downtown arena. (And yes, there’s no little irony that Seattle would be doing to another city what was done to it.)
A new arena is just what a Seattle investor group proposes to build to bring a team back to the Emerald City. That group, headed by San Francisco hedge-fund manager Chris Hansen, got an instant boost in its credibility when the names of three other members were revealed last week: Microsoft CEO and billionaire Steve Ballmer and millionaires Erik and Peter Nordstrom, whose family was majority owner of the Seattle Seahawks from 1976 to 1989.
If the investment group is successful in acquiring a team for Seattle, Ballmer would be the NBA’s richest owner, edging the current title holder, Portland Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen. Ballmer’s wealth and civic credentials, coupled with the Nordstroms’, is likely to go far toward allaying fears that the public would get stuck with some big bills associated with building a $490 million, 18,000-seat facility.
The investment group is making a “remarkable offer,” says King County Executive Dow Constantine, who told those attending last week’s rally that the proposal is likely the best the city will ever get to bring back an NBA team.
The particulars: Although the arena would require $200 million in public bonds, those would be paid off by taxes and revenue generated by the arena. The investment group would buy the NBA team (it also wants to buy an NHL team to play in the facility), finance and build the arena, pay for maintenance and any cost overruns, and agree not to move the team for at least 30 years.
While the financial picture is clearer, for many a more insurmountable problem is the location – just south of the CenturyLink and Safeco fields – and its impacts on traffic. Even a study paid for by Hansen found that on some days, especially ones conflicting with heavily attended Seattle Mariners games, traffic could be horrendous. And added traffic volumes could affect the Port of Seattle’s ability to handle more container cargo.
These are not insignificant considerations. Seattle officials need to weigh them against fans’ enthusiasm and the real financial benefits and morale boost an NBA team could bring to the city.