Report: NBA making return to Seattle 'a big priority'
SEATTLE -- Fans hoping for the rebirth of the Seattle SuperSonics had their spirits raised on Tuesday with the announcement that Chris Hansen's arena group had plans to privately finance the entire Sodo arena project.
Those hopes should be further buoyed by a Thursday report.
The NBA has made a return to Seattle a "top priority," according to basketball writer Sam Amico, who spoke with two anonymous league sources, including a team owner.
On Tuesday, the Sonics Arena group -- comprised of Hansen, former Sonics executive Wally Walker, and Pete and Erik Nordstrom -- sent a letter to Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine offering to build a proposed NBA/NHL arena south of Safeco Field in Sodo at no cost to the city or county.
That gesture seems to be enough to have pique the NBA's interest in brining a team back to Seattle after allowing the Sonics to move to Oklahoma City in 2008, where they became the Thunder. It's unknown at this time whether the NBA would prefer Seattle to get a team via expansion or relocation, though there aren't any obvious candidates for relocation.
"I don't think it's been thought out that far along yet," a source told Amico.
Tuesday's announcement from Hansen's group would let the city and county off the hook for $200 million in bonds that were planned under the existing memorandum of understanding (MOU) agreed upon in October 2012, as well as freeing up tax revenues from the project that were meant to pay off the debt. The MOU expires in 2017.
Before the project can become shovel-ready, the group still needs the Seattle City Council to approve the vacation of a one-block stretch of Occidental Street south of Safeco Field -- a move that was voted down by the city council in May. The arena backers offered to pay for Sodo street improvements and the balance needed to fund the Lander Street overpass project in exchange for the partial street vacation and tax breaks.
Hansen's continued interest in a new arena -- and the NBA and NHL teams that would presumably come with it -- has been obvious even after May's vote by the city council that was seen by some as a nail in the coffin for the project. His company, WSA Properties, spent $57 million since September buying up land in Sodo near the proposed arena site.
Daniel DeMay contributed to this report.
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