Seattle’s KeyArena renovation plan is officially a go, as the city council voted 7-1 yesterday to approve a memorandum of understanding with Oak View Group to redo the former home of the Sonics (and current home of the Storm) in the hopes of luring both NBA and NHL franchises. Mayor Jenny Durkan still has to sign the MOU, but she’s expected to do that tomorrow.
Assuming this is the final verdict — there’s still a traffic plan to be worked out before construction can begin — it marks the end of a years-long debate that began with Chris Hansen proposing an arena in the SoDo neighborhood near the Mariners and Seahawks stadiums, and eventually, after a last-minute obstacle thrown in the way of the Hansen project by the Port of Seattle and its seaport unions, the city instead settling on hiring Tim Leiweke’s Oak View Group to renovate the city’s existing arena, which was just renovated 20 years ago, but that’s like 140 in arena years. Hansen subsequently issued a statement insisting that “our plan to build a 100% privately funded arena in SoDo represents the best chance to bring the NBA back to Seattle”; the OVG MOU bars the city from contributing financially to any other large arena, but presumably there would be ways of structuring a SoDo deal to get around this clause — the bigger question is whether Seattle could support two full-size arenas, which is probably a no.
There will no doubt be huge arguments about whether this is the right decision for the city, for basketball fans, and for residents concerned about traffic — I expect they’ll be starting in the comments section the instant I hit “publish” — but as I’ve noted before, this long, convoluted process at least got Seattle a deal that doesn’t cost much in public money, after losing a team in part because the city and state refused to cough up a ton of public money, and that’s got to be a win.
It’s considered likely that Seattle will land an NHL team first, since that league is salivating for a franchise there, and has an odd number of teams after approving the Las Vegas Golden Knights but no second expansion franchise, in part because Seattle didn’t have its arena ducks in a row yet. You have to wonder if maybe the NHL will wait a bit first to use Seattle as leverage for teams like the Arizona Coyotes and Calgary Flames and New York Islanders to extract new arena funding — but nah, there’s always Houston for that.
As for a new Sonics, that’ll have to wait until the NBA either expands (nothing on the horizon, supposedly) or a team relocates (no clear candidates right now, either), but you have to figure Seattle will be next in line or close to it. The only real question is whether OVG will agree to a friendly enough arena lease to lure an NBA team, if it thinks it can make more money from concerts. (OVG’s lease with the city earns it an eight-year extension if it can bring in either an NHL or NBA team, but there’s no bonus for doing both.)
In the meantime, Seattle is getting a franchise in the new minor-league North American Premier Basketball League, which will play somewhere as yet to be determined. The Seattle Weekly chose to headline this as “It’s Not the NBA, but Professional Basketball Is on Its Way,” which seems to imply that the WNBA’s Storm aren’t professional basketball players? I guess there’s only so much progress you can have in a city at once.