Seattle offered up KeyArena site to arena investor for free

SEATTLE -- As the city of Seattle and investor Chris Hansen work toward an agreement to build a new sports arena in the city's SoDo neighborhood, a member of Seattle's arena panel says the city had offered up the KeyArena site for free.

"The mayor had told me over the weekend when I saw him that he had offered Key Arena even at free, and Mr. Hansen felt that it wouldn't work," said King County Council member Pete Von Reichbauer, adding he was shocked by the city's free offer.

Maud Daudon, the financial advisor to the arena panel, confirmed the offer.

"The city did offer that site to Chris Hansen first, and for several months, they really pursued the idea," said Daudon. "Even if they could take (KeyArena) down to its pavement, could they build an arena?"

The KeyArena offer would have come before most of Seattle had heard about the arena proposal. Daudon said Hansen declined the offer, citing transportation issues.

"The transportation issues -- and we talked to Chris directly about it -- were the stumbling block," Daudon said.

Hansen has already acquired several plots of land in SoDo for a potential arena to be built and has funded a study to determine the impacts on traffic and parking following objections by his potential neighbor - the Seattle Mariners.

Hansen said he saw traffic as a "key benefit" in the stadium district when he undertook his own site evaluation.

But earlier this month, the Mariners sent a letter to the county and city opposing the idea of a new multipurpose arena, citing concerns about traffic and scheduling of events taking place in an area. The baseball team encouraged other sites in the region, including Seattle Center and neighboring Bellevue, should be looked at before the spot in SoDo is developed.

The Port of Seattle also released a letter it sent to the arena advisory committee expressing its concerns over traffic in the area of the proposed venue and supporting the idea of looking at alternate sites.

The city's arena review panel has already given their blessings for Hansen's arena plan but cautioned about the traffic issues.

"It looks very promising; however, we did highlight some things that are issues, because we've heard the people talk. And certainly transportation and parking are huge things," said Lenny Wilkens, a member of the review panel.

Local industry groups fear cargo shipped through Elliott Bay could be lost to other ports if there isn't a plan to mitigate traffic around a new SoDo arena.

"Any place would pose a challenge for this type of facility," said Dave Geroing of the Manufacturing Industrial Council. "This is the only one where you're jeopardizing the marine cargo industry."

Gering added the marine cargo industry translates into $3 billion a year locally in taxes and wages, which is equivalent to 23 NBA franchises.

"I think there's a healthy skepticism in a lot of quarters whether or not this deal is going to work over time, especially in issues like transportation and the ability to move people and goods through that corridor," said King County Council member Larry Phillips.

Hansen has proposed a new arena that would cost between $450 and $500 million and would include $290 million in private investment. Hansen's group would also be responsible for the purchase of an NBA franchise and finding a partner interested in bringing an NHL franchise to Seattle.

The public financing component of the proposal would be capped at $200 million and paid back through taxes and rent collected on the tenants of a gleaming new building.
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