The Seattle city council is set to meet today to vote on Chris Hansen’s proposed $490 million SoDo arena (hearing starting at 2 pm Pacific, webcast here), and the Seattle Times sums up the situation well:
Seattle City Council members this summer said they wouldn’t approve a $490 million basketball and hockey arena without knowing more about Chris Hansen’s business plan, his investors and how he would minimize the risk to taxpayers for up to $200 million in public bonds.
Monday, the council is expected to approve an agreement with Hansen, though many of their questions remain unanswered.
Most important, the council effectively gave up on getting assurances that the new arena won’t hurt the future of the existing KeyArena, likely because everyone now admits there’s no way that Key can survive with a newer competitor across town. (The council did agree to spend $7 million to study the future of Key; they could have saved $7 million by shaking their heads sadly and muttering, “It’ll have to go.”) And the guarantees of Hansen’s financial viability pretty much come down to an independent accountant looking at his books and confirming that he’s not cooking them.
Which is all well and good, but the big question remains: Can Hansen actually procure an NBA franchise at a price that will let him pay for both the team and the arena on the slim profits that are generated by a sports arena in a mid-sized market? I appear in the Seattle Times article in my now-accustomed role as voice of “this’ll be great if it works out, but my Spidey-sense is deeply skeptical that the math can add up.” Assuming the council votes for this as expected tonight (they already voted unanimously in a committee vote last week to advance it to the full council) and the county council follows suit, I’ll be rooting for Hansen to succeed, since it’d be nice to have a second successful mostly privately built sports facility to point to in addition to the San Francisco Giants‘ AT&T Park. But I’d still love to be a fly on the wall of Hansen’s bookkeeper.