BY Art Thiel 06:52AM 04/27/2012

One-on-one with arena mogul Chris Hansen

Over lunch, the would-be pro hoops savior says he won’t be on the hook for road upgrades, why the building seats only 18,000 and what he’s looking for in ownership partners.

Chris Hansen interview video screen shot

Chris Hansen said his arena project is "a tool" for other SoDo parties to get some satisfaction out of earlier commitments by the city. / KING5 photo.

Chris Hansen describes himself as a patient guy who takes a long term view of everything in his charge.

Which is good, because he’s beginning to feel just a bit annoyed at the process of getting his proposed arena project off the ground.

“So much attention on one thing,” he said, offering a small smile Thursday over lunch. He is hoping to advance the public discussion beyond the issues of traffic and parking that have spawned dismay from the Mariners, the Port of Seattle, the industrial council — his would-be neighbors in SoDo.

But it’s not as if his day job as a hedge-fund manager has left him with no experience in the bruising give-and-take of business.

“I have a very thick skin — I have to in my business,” he said. “I’m happy to be engaged in this for four, five or six years, however long it takes to nurture the project, as required.”

So for basketball fans lamenting the loss of the Sonics, don’t worry: He’s not flinching. But beyond the more modest issues of strident words and narrow media focus is a serious matter: Who pays for whatever street upgrades are necessary to placate SoDo’s aggrieved parties?

It won’t be him. And the city is staying mum.

In an exclusive, lengthy interview with Sportspress Northwest — the transcript runs in two parts, the first Friday, the second Monday — Hansen said he doesn’t know yet what the resolution will be. He’s funding a traffic study, due in about a month, to find out more, but is unlikely to be the only or even primary source of cash for needs that some say could run more than $100 million.

“If someone tries to put me on the hook for an infrastructure project of this magnitude that should be undertaken by the city, it would make this project not viable,” he said. “If you tack that onto the cost of an arena, it would be unrealistic.”

The issue has come up because a previous city project designed to alleviate SoDo traffic congestion had its funding diverted several years ago to the Mercer Street improvement project. The recession and its subsequent loss of tax revenues has constrained the city budget to re-fund the SoDo fix, chiefly a “flyover” of the railroad tracks on Lander Street, just south of the proposed arena site, that would keep auto traffic from snarling at a busy railroad crossing.

Beyond the issues of convenience for sports fans and teams, the arena project raises big urban-planning questions for the future of SoDo.

As Hansen put it, “There’s only one way for downtown to grow.”

He and others see the aging industrial district as the future home for high-tech and other businesses to replace the maritime and blue-collar businesses that have long occupied the city’s south end. The development of light rail, a streetcar system and the end of the Alaskan Way viaduct open up opportunities and problems for current and future businesses.

In the interview, Hansen declined to talk about prospects for team relocation or who will join him in a partnership to build the arena and purchase teams if and when they become available.

He did say that most plugged-in Seattleites will be familiar with the names on his short list — should the dream be realized.

“Right now, there’s nothing to sign up to,” Hansen said. “I’m not under any pressure to put a group together. I’m financing the land acquisition myself.

“There will be plenty of household names on the list. I think you (media) should rest assured that a lot of the right people are interested.”

Meantime, he said negotiations over details in the memorandum of understanding between him, the city and King County are going smoothly: “All parties have stayed true to the framework of the deal, and only minor, technical issues remain.”

Hansen was relaxed, candid and incisive in his understanding of the logistics and politics that are a part of the deal.

But if he had his druthers, he would have participated in the return of the NBA as a minority owner “with an aspiration to a majority stake when I was more ready.”

That said, he is fully engaged, even if he makes his appearances at quiet lunches rather than flamboyant press conferences.

“The (pro sports) owners who are less seen tend to be more successful,” he said. “I don’t mean detached. You can’t be detached. This is not a hobby. It does require your commitment at the highest level.”

For more on this startling proposal and the man behind it, read the complete interview transcripts Friday and Monday, exclusively at Sportspress Northwest.


YourThoughts

  • arthurofrhodes

    “He and others see the aging industrial district as the future home for high-tech and other businesses to replace the maritime and blue-collar businesses that have long occupied the city’s south end.”  And there it is.  Manufacturing and industrial was the LEADING sector in job growth in Washington state from march 2011 to March 2012, and yet these guys want to move this out of Seattle.  Talk about shooting ourselves in the foot.    

  • arthurofrhodes

    “He and others see the aging industrial district as the future home for high-tech and other businesses to replace the maritime and blue-collar businesses that have long occupied the city’s south end.”  And there it is.  Manufacturing and industrial was the LEADING sector in job growth in Washington state from march 2011 to March 2012, and yet these guys want to move this out of Seattle.  Talk about shooting ourselves in the foot.    

  • Wesley Remmer

    Fascinating insight. Good work landing the interview, and asking solid questions.

  • Wesley Remmer

    Fascinating insight. Good work landing the interview, and asking solid questions.

  • Bradshaw

    Hansen’s words are telling. He admits he wants to push out the maritime and manufacturing industry that has been the backbone of Seattle’s economy for decades. The industry’s status isn’t changing anytime soon – manufacturing is the fastest growing job sector in the state. And Hansen wants to get rid of the heart of manufacturing in Seattle?

    He also says he doesn’t want to be on the hook for the necessary road improvements that would allow for a Sodo arena. No one is saying he has to be on the hook, but the Lander Street overpass and other improvements are the only projects that might allow an arena to work there.

    One of the most important industries in the state, as well as taxpayers, shouldn’t be on the hook for the dream of a San Francisco hedge fund manager to own a sports team. The cost is too great.

    • Brett

      Taxpayers will not have to pay one cent for this arena.

      • Grover

        Interesting lack of understanding you have.  The arena proposal calls for many taxes to be used to pay off the construction bonds:  admission tax, property tax, sales tax. etc.  Have you not even read the proposal?

        • Brett

          Yes, they are taxes generated by the building itself. If you never buy a ticket to an event, you won’t pay one cent toward the arena. The only people that will contribute are the ones who will actually use the building.

          • Grover

            So, what?  All tax revenue belongs to the city or county or state.  Doesn’t matter where that tax revenue is collected.

            If you don’t eat at Canlis restaurant, you won’t ever pay taxes at Canlis restaurant.  Does that mean that the taxes collected at Canlis restauant belong to Canlis?  Or, do those taxes belong to the public, even if you never eat at Canlis, and never pay taxes at Canlis.?

            Your “logic” is incredibly stupid.

            People buying crap at a new arena should be paying taxes to the city and county, just like people buying crap at Costco should be paying taxes to the city and county.  What is the difference?

            What differerence does it make if I never go to the new arena?  I still want the taxes collected at the new arena to go to the city and county — not to pay for an NBA and NHL arena.

            Is this over your head?

  • Bradshaw

    Hansen’s words are telling. He admits he wants to push out the maritime and manufacturing industry that has been the backbone of Seattle’s economy for decades. The industry’s status isn’t changing anytime soon – manufacturing is the fastest growing job sector in the state. And Hansen wants to get rid of the heart of manufacturing in Seattle?

    He also says he doesn’t want to be on the hook for the necessary road improvements that would allow for a Sodo arena. No one is saying he has to be on the hook, but the Lander Street overpass and other improvements are the only projects that might allow an arena to work there.

    One of the most important industries in the state, as well as taxpayers, shouldn’t be on the hook for the dream of a San Francisco hedge fund manager to own a sports team. The cost is too great.

    • Brett

      Taxpayers will not have to pay one cent for this arena.

      • Grover

        Interesting lack of understanding you have.  The arena proposal calls for many taxes to be used to pay off the construction bonds:  admission tax, property tax, sales tax. etc.  Have you not even read the proposal?

        • Brett

          Yes, they are taxes generated by the building itself. If you never buy a ticket to an event, you won’t pay one cent toward the arena. The only people that will contribute are the ones who will actually use the building.

          • Grover

            So, what?  All tax revenue belongs to the city or county or state.  Doesn’t matter where that tax revenue is collected.

            If you don’t eat at Canlis restaurant, you won’t ever pay taxes at Canlis restaurant.  Does that mean that the taxes collected at Canlis restauant belong to Canlis?  Or, do those taxes belong to the public, even if you never eat at Canlis, and never pay taxes at Canlis.?

            Your “logic” is incredibly stupid.

            People buying crap at a new arena should be paying taxes to the city and county, just like people buying crap at Costco should be paying taxes to the city and county.  What is the difference?

            What differerence does it make if I never go to the new arena?  I still want the taxes collected at the new arena to go to the city and county — not to pay for an NBA and NHL arena.

            Is this over your head?

  • jafabian

    The traffic is going to be the same wherever a new arena is built.  It was never a big deal at Key Arena other than the Mercer Street on ramp and that’s going to be worked on in the future.  But the traffic in the SODO district could be even more busy depending on the events at the Events Center which has never been brought up IIRC.

    I sort of agree with Hansen with his vision for the SODO area but I totally disagree that a new arena will kick start things and be the cornerstone of that vision as he seems to be suggesting.  It won’t be open all year and will be in competition for Safeco Field and Century Link Field’s sport dollars.  It’ll be intersting to see if a new NBA team comes to this arena and if attendance is lukewarm (which I expect based on how Charlotte has been lukewarm to the Bobcats) how long will it be before the ownership group starts grousing on how they need to upgrade the facility?  Especially if the Mariners and Seahawks are winning at that time?  Does Hansen fully understand the negative impact of how the NBA left Seattle has been on the community?  From a political, business and fan perspective? 

    The whole new arena concept is an interesting one from a sports fan perspective and a great one from a sports club’s perpective but really, is it in Seattle’s best interests?

    • Brett

      Yes.

      • jafabian

        I have long felt that a new arena is a death sentence for the Seattle Center.  And if the NBA can’t work at Seattle Center they can’t work anywhere else then.  The Center is the most visited area in the state and benefitted from the trickle down effect of that fact.  Many times if a game didn’t sell out the Sonics could go out in the street and hawk tickets.  You can’t do that in the SODO area when the people who are there are probably going to a Sounders/Mariners/Seahawk game.  In that regard a new arena would be detrimental to the city.  They have a lot invested in the Center whereas the NBA has shown they have little loyalty and respect for their host cities. 

        Make no mistake about it.  This is not an investment in the downtown community towards its growth.  This is a for profit venture from a San Francisco based hedge fund manager.  So if Chris Hansen has an opportunity to enter the Bay Area market with an NBA team and the team he starts here is struggling financially will he stick it out here or will he jump to SF?  He may be from Seattle but he doesn’t live here.  Being local doesn’t make loyalty.  Howard Schultz showed us that.  No matter what it’s about business.

        Hansen is looking for about $200 million in city funds towards this project and the city rightfully is asking why they should pony that amount up when in their eyes there’s a perfectly workable existing facility already that wouldn’t require any public funds.  NBA teams don’t make money from how full an arena is.  That’s short sighted.  They make money from their brand.  The NY market is so successful because of how large it is.  It has the MSG Network and the YES Network and that’s where they make their money moreso than how much a stadium or arena is filled.  That’s why Barry Ackerly wanted Key Arena the size it is.  He understood that there’s times a team will have its lean years and being the media savvy person that he was had the Sonics part of a large media network.  That’s what the city should sell to Hansen, that they could put together a media network comparable to what other large markets have.   There’s no reason why an NBA team here couldn’t tap into the Alaska/British Columbia/Idaho markets and maybe even Hawaii and Japan.  

    • Grover

      No.  It is a stupid mistake for any public involvement in this project, whatsoever.  This city can not support two more major sports franchises.  This city is not supporting the Mariners right now, even without the NBA and NHL for competition.  I think only about half the luxury suites at Safeco Field are leased for this season.  If there are not enough companies interested in leasing suites to buy more than half those at Safeco Field, who is going to buy the suites in a new arena for the NBA and NHL teams?

      Even the 25 luxury suites at New Husky Stadium have not all been taken yet, and they are marketing them very hard, to help pay for the new stadium.

      • Brett

        The Mariners aren’t being supported well right now because they suck, and have sucked for a long time. It has nothing to do with a lack of sufficient corporate money to support them. Attendance at Safeco remained surprisingly strong long after the team started going downhill in the middle of the last decade. It’s only in the last couple years that people really got fed up and stopped coming to games. One thing this city has proven with all of its franchises is that it will support a winner. It’s as simple as that. As for UW, they have sold all of the club seats and patio suites for the new stadium and all but five of their luxury suites. And it’s still a year and a half out from opening. They’re doing very well.

        • Grover

          And all the money going into new Husky Stadium suites and club seats is money that is not available for suites in other venues, like Safeco Field.  The M’s are doing very poorly selling suites, club seats, and season tickets.

          Even when there was only KeyArena, Safeco Field and Qwest Field, the luxury suites in just those three venues were never all sold out at the same time.  The Sonics claimed that when Safeco Field opened, people who had owned suites in KeyArena gave them up, and bought suites in the brand new Safeco Field, instead.

          If you think different sports venues do not compete with each other for sales of luxury suites, club seats, season tickents, in-stadium advertising, etc., then you don’t know what you are talkiing about.

  • jafabian

    The traffic is going to be the same wherever a new arena is built.  It was never a big deal at Key Arena other than the Mercer Street on ramp and that’s going to be worked on in the future.  But the traffic in the SODO district could be even more busy depending on the events at the Events Center which has never been brought up IIRC.

    I sort of agree with Hansen with his vision for the SODO area but I totally disagree that a new arena will kick start things and be the cornerstone of that vision as he seems to be suggesting.  It won’t be open all year and will be in competition for Safeco Field and Century Link Field’s sport dollars.  It’ll be intersting to see if a new NBA team comes to this arena and if attendance is lukewarm (which I expect based on how Charlotte has been lukewarm to the Bobcats) how long will it be before the ownership group starts grousing on how they need to upgrade the facility?  Especially if the Mariners and Seahawks are winning at that time?  Does Hansen fully understand the negative impact of how the NBA left Seattle has been on the community?  From a political, business and fan perspective? 

    The whole new arena concept is an interesting one from a sports fan perspective and a great one from a sports club’s perpective but really, is it in Seattle’s best interests?

    • Brett

      Yes.

      • jafabian

        I have long felt that a new arena is a death sentence for the Seattle Center.  And if the NBA can’t work at Seattle Center they can’t work anywhere else then.  The Center is the most visited area in the state and benefitted from the trickle down effect of that fact.  Many times if a game didn’t sell out the Sonics could go out in the street and hawk tickets.  You can’t do that in the SODO area when the people who are there are probably going to a Sounders/Mariners/Seahawk game.  In that regard a new arena would be detrimental to the city.  They have a lot invested in the Center whereas the NBA has shown they have little loyalty and respect for their host cities. 

        Make no mistake about it.  This is not an investment in the downtown community towards its growth.  This is a for profit venture from a San Francisco based hedge fund manager.  So if Chris Hansen has an opportunity to enter the Bay Area market with an NBA team and the team he starts here is struggling financially will he stick it out here or will he jump to SF?  He may be from Seattle but he doesn’t live here.  Being local doesn’t make loyalty.  Howard Schultz showed us that.  No matter what it’s about business.

        Hansen is looking for about $200 million in city funds towards this project and the city rightfully is asking why they should pony that amount up when in their eyes there’s a perfectly workable existing facility already that wouldn’t require any public funds.  NBA teams don’t make money from how full an arena is.  That’s short sighted.  They make money from their brand.  The NY market is so successful because of how large it is.  It has the MSG Network and the YES Network and that’s where they make their money moreso than how much a stadium or arena is filled.  That’s why Barry Ackerly wanted Key Arena the size it is.  He understood that there’s times a team will have its lean years and being the media savvy person that he was had the Sonics part of a large media network.  That’s what the city should sell to Hansen, that they could put together a media network comparable to what other large markets have.   There’s no reason why an NBA team here couldn’t tap into the Alaska/British Columbia/Idaho markets and maybe even Hawaii and Japan.  

    • Grover

      No.  It is a stupid mistake for any public involvement in this project, whatsoever.  This city can not support two more major sports franchises.  This city is not supporting the Mariners right now, even without the NBA and NHL for competition.  I think only about half the luxury suites at Safeco Field are leased for this season.  If there are not enough companies interested in leasing suites to buy more than half those at Safeco Field, who is going to buy the suites in a new arena for the NBA and NHL teams?

      Even the 25 luxury suites at New Husky Stadium have not all been taken yet, and they are marketing them very hard, to help pay for the new stadium.

      • Brett

        The Mariners aren’t being supported well right now because they suck, and have sucked for a long time. It has nothing to do with a lack of sufficient corporate money to support them. Attendance at Safeco remained surprisingly strong long after the team started going downhill in the middle of the last decade. It’s only in the last couple years that people really got fed up and stopped coming to games. One thing this city has proven with all of its franchises is that it will support a winner. It’s as simple as that. As for UW, they have sold all of the club seats and patio suites for the new stadium and all but five of their luxury suites. And it’s still a year and a half out from opening. They’re doing very well.

        • Grover

          And all the money going into new Husky Stadium suites and club seats is money that is not available for suites in other venues, like Safeco Field.  The M’s are doing very poorly selling suites, club seats, and season tickets.

          Even when there was only KeyArena, Safeco Field and Qwest Field, the luxury suites in just those three venues were never all sold out at the same time.  The Sonics claimed that when Safeco Field opened, people who had owned suites in KeyArena gave them up, and bought suites in the brand new Safeco Field, instead.

          If you think different sports venues do not compete with each other for sales of luxury suites, club seats, season tickents, in-stadium advertising, etc., then you don’t know what you are talkiing about.

  • Grover

    The railroad tracks across Lander Street are not a problem for traffic to and from the stadiums.  It is not even a factor.  Have you ever even stood down there before or after an M’s game and seen how the trains affect traffic, Art?  I have, and there is virtually no impact.  The Lander Street overpass won’t help stadium traffic.  It would be good for the port, and the railroads, however.

    The Link light rail tracks across Lander and Royal Brougham Way both screw up stadium traffic worse than the railroad tracks crossing Lander between 1st Ave S. and 4th Ave. S.

    However, there may be some street improvements which would help traffic in that area.  The obvious way to pay for these street improvements is to use tax revenues from Safeco Field (not that those construction bonds are paid off), like the admission tax, plus the tax revenues from the new arena. 

    Any new arena should be completely paid for, owned and operated by group of wealthy investors.  Then the tax revenues generated by the arena — admission tax, property tax, sales tax, business tax, et. al.  – can be used for street improvements.

    • jafabian

       Wherever a new arena goes, whether Seattle, Bellevue, Renton or anywhere else there will be “traffic problems” to a small degree.  Not unless the city does some major street renovation which won’t happen.  As such over the years the city has learned how to compensate for that shortcoming.  IMO, traffic concerns should be a minor consideration at best.

  • Grover

    The railroad tracks across Lander Street are not a problem for traffic to and from the stadiums.  It is not even a factor.  Have you ever even stood down there before or after an M’s game and seen how the trains affect traffic, Art?  I have, and there is virtually no impact.  The Lander Street overpass won’t help stadium traffic.  It would be good for the port, and the railroads, however.

    The Link light rail tracks across Lander and Royal Brougham Way both screw up stadium traffic worse than the railroad tracks crossing Lander between 1st Ave S. and 4th Ave. S.

    However, there may be some street improvements which would help traffic in that area.  The obvious way to pay for these street improvements is to use tax revenues from Safeco Field (not that those construction bonds are paid off), like the admission tax, plus the tax revenues from the new arena. 

    Any new arena should be completely paid for, owned and operated by group of wealthy investors.  Then the tax revenues generated by the arena — admission tax, property tax, sales tax, business tax, et. al.  – can be used for street improvements.

    • jafabian

       Wherever a new arena goes, whether Seattle, Bellevue, Renton or anywhere else there will be “traffic problems” to a small degree.  Not unless the city does some major street renovation which won’t happen.  As such over the years the city has learned how to compensate for that shortcoming.  IMO, traffic concerns should be a minor consideration at best.

  • 1coolguy

    It’s a shame he doesn’t take over Key Arena and remodel it – what a huge plus for the Seattle Center. The Key would also get around all this transpotation mess – he could begin on a Key teardown or renovation this month if that was the route Hansen took. It seems McGinn didn’t do nearly the job he should have with this, as GIVING Hansen the Key AND the real estate would have been a true win-win – gets the Key viable, saves Hansen I’m sure $100m+ and gets the schedule accelerated.

    Once the new arena is built @ SODO, the Key has no reason to be and should just be torn down and turned into park land, which is a real shame. The new arena will pull all the concert and sports dates, leaving Key an empty drain on the city, destroying that corner of the Center.

    • jafabian

       I’d rather see Memorial Stadium torn down (but with the memorial wall retained) and then the Coliseum expanded.  And shouldn’t we now be calling it the Coliseum instead of Key Arena?

  • 1coolguy

    It’s a shame he doesn’t take over Key Arena and remodel it – what a huge plus for the Seattle Center. The Key would also get around all this transpotation mess – he could begin on a Key teardown or renovation this month if that was the route Hansen took. It seems McGinn didn’t do nearly the job he should have with this, as GIVING Hansen the Key AND the real estate would have been a true win-win – gets the Key viable, saves Hansen I’m sure $100m+ and gets the schedule accelerated.

    Once the new arena is built @ SODO, the Key has no reason to be and should just be torn down and turned into park land, which is a real shame. The new arena will pull all the concert and sports dates, leaving Key an empty drain on the city, destroying that corner of the Center.

    • jafabian

       I’d rather see Memorial Stadium torn down (but with the memorial wall retained) and then the Coliseum expanded.  And shouldn’t we now be calling it the Coliseum instead of Key Arena?