BY Art Thiel 07:45PM 09/13/2012

Thiel: Another arena vote, another beer to cheer

Revelers gathered at McRory’s in Pioneer Square to celebrate an arena milestone, as Chris Hansen details some of the push-pull with the city council that made for a breakthrough.

Chris Hansen (light shirt) thanks supporters who came to McRory's in Pioneer Square Thursday night to celebrate progress in his pursuit of a new arena. / Art Thiel, Sportspress Northwest

Sitting in the the back of a still-empty McRory’s restaurant, apart from the growing Pioneer Square din, Chris Hansen was approached by a staffer packing a smart phone and a big grin.

Hansen’s observers in city hall texted that city council’s finance committee voted 7-0 with one abstention to move along the arena deal for a vote of the full council.

The vote was no surprise, but it was a another benchmark for the hometown boy in the deal to bring back the Sonics.

“Cool,” he said, offering a thumbs-up a smile. The return of the NBA is still far away, but it was another day closer.

“The NBA has been watching very carefully,” Hansen said. “They have a copy of (the amended memorandum of understanding). They’re following every step.”

The step Thursday evening included a beer on Hansen for anyone who showed up to McRory’s to celebrate the agreement announced Tuesday between Hansen and the city council to improve considerably, for the public’s benefit,  the deal to build a $500 million basketball/hockey arena.

That would be his second personal guarantee of the week. The first one was that if the arena, once built and operating, becomes a financial failure, his butt is liable.

Real estate developers, even part-timers like him, don’t do that. Does he care that he set a bad precedent for his would-be lodge brothersin the business of pro sports?

“I’m not focused on what others might say,” he said. “If (these compromises are) what it took to get it done, I would say it’s OK.”

Hansen said he was “very, very, very confident” that the project would never default to him to pay the mortgage. Seattle fans and taxpayers not born in the last few years would cough loudly at that.

But Hansen wouldn’t have gotten this far if he listened to coughs, critics or those who said he would “rue the day.” He still might — a year-long environmental impact process has the ability to make the strongest men weep — but for now, he has redirected $47 million that was going to debt retirement to help untie the SoDo traffic knot and made KeyArena more habitable.

Those were the two biggest priorities sought by council and staffers, who started with a laundry list much longer. The multitude of desires was perhaps the most bewildering aspect of this phase of the project — he had nine city council members and nine county council members to hear and attempt to please.

He thought he was more or less done when he had the go-ahead from Mayor Mike McGinn and King County Executive Dow Constantine.

“I underestimated the difficulty of negotiating with 18 different people,” he said.  “They don’t speak as a uniform group. They each have different things to bring to the discussion.

“It’s a tough, tough negotiation to coalesce everyone’s requests and get them prioritized and getting someone to speak as one.”

The job fell largely to council members Tim Burgess, Mike O’Brien and Sally Clark to reduce the yammering and decide on what was manageable. Unsurprisingly, they made a much bigger ask then they eventually received.

“There wasn’t a non-starter issue as much as the amount of money they were asking,” he said. “I said, ‘You guys have to put your priority list together, and then you have to help tell me how much it’s going to cost me.’

“It was frustrating, but we got there. Tim did a great job in organizing and prioritizing, where we could actually get something done. The central staff deserves a lot of credit too. Like any negotiation, it came down to me understanding what was important to the transaction for the council,  and for the council to understand what was important to me.”

What was important for Hansen was that his revenue streams from the original plan were not so undercut that the deal would not pass muster with banks from whom he plans to borrow. That’s how they reached $47 million from a figure much higher.

For the amended MOU to succeed from the council’s point of view, the $40 million Hansen has dedicated to an infrastructure fund needs to be matched (“seed money,” Burgess called it) by a similar amount from the Port of Seattle and other SoDo constituencies to make mutually beneficial projects happen.

That’s the plan, anyway. But for Thursday night, the plan was to celebrate. Hansen took to a microphone outside McRory’s to say thanks to a couple thousand supporters hailing him on the fenced-off Occidental Avenue, then moved inside and stood in front of Seattle’s most celebrated backbar to salute more revelers.

“We’ll really celebrate when a Sonics player steps off a plane,” Hansen said. Such a thought has seemed, since that dreary July day in 2008 when the Sonics were sold out to Oklahoma City, preposterous. But several thousand beers last night offered testimony to a contrary aspiration.


YourThoughts

  • Tian Biao

    $40 million in infrastructure seed money to be matched by the Port and ‘other Sodo constituencies?’ now THAT will be interesting to follow: will the Port pony up? And especially, will the Ms? After all, they both profess to be very mightily worried about the potential traffic problems. Can’t wait to see how worried they are in terms of actual dollars. Also, isn’t Schultz down there in SoDo somewhere? This is going to be good.

    Hansen has really stepped up to the plate on this. I wonder if those other groups will bring anything to the table besides rhetoric. Anybody taking bets?

    • Jamo57

      The Ms ponied up $500K for traffic mitigation and got out of the first round in the playoff 17 years ago.   What else do they have to do?   Geez…..

      • Artthiel

         That $500K buys two weeks of Chone Figgins’ annual employment. Money well spent on both counts.

    • Artthiel

       The Port will say no at first, but how can it not pony up when the city has found $40M to help fix problems the city and port identified 10 years ago?  You’re right, this will be high drama.

  • Tian Biao

    $40 million in infrastructure seed money to be matched by the Port and ‘other Sodo constituencies?’ now THAT will be interesting to follow: will the Port pony up? And especially, will the Ms? After all, they both profess to be very mightily worried about the potential traffic problems. Can’t wait to see how worried they are in terms of actual dollars. Also, isn’t Schultz down there in SoDo somewhere? This is going to be good.

    Hansen has really stepped up to the plate on this. I wonder if those other groups will bring anything to the table besides rhetoric. Anybody taking bets?

    • Jamo57

      The Ms ponied up $500K for traffic mitigation and got out of the first round in the playoff 17 years ago.   What else do they have to do?   Geez…..

      • Artthiel

         That $500K buys two weeks of Chone Figgins’ annual employment. Money well spent on both counts.

    • Artthiel

       The Port will say no at first, but how can it not pony up when the city has found $40M to help fix problems the city and port identified 10 years ago?  You’re right, this will be high drama.

  • Jamo57

    Rumor has it the thing that is holding up the Phoenix Coyotes sale is the owners are refusing to buy the town a beer.   Let’s pounce!

    • Artthiel

       Word I have is the guy finally realized he was buying the Phoenix Coyotes.

  • Jamo57

    Rumor has it the thing that is holding up the Phoenix Coyotes sale is the owners are refusing to buy the town a beer.   Let’s pounce!

    • Artthiel

       Word I have is the guy finally realized he was buying the Phoenix Coyotes.

  • Jamo57

    BTW Art, two columns in one day?   Running your own media conglomerate looks like hard work!

    • Tian Biao

       second that, and thanks Art, we do appreciate it . . .

      • Artthiel

         Thanks. Do me a favor and spread the word.

        • Michael Kaiser

          It is a tough gig.  Look at the backing and talent The National Sports Daily had.

    • Artthiel

      Someday, I’ll write a book . . . 

  • Jamo57

    BTW Art, two columns in one day?   Running your own media conglomerate looks like hard work!

    • Tian Biao

       second that, and thanks Art, we do appreciate it . . .

      • Artthiel

         Thanks. Do me a favor and spread the word.

        • Michael Kaiser

          It is a tough gig.  Look at the backing and talent The National Sports Daily had.

    • Artthiel

      Someday, I’ll write a book . . . 

  • Tim M.

    Hansen reminds me of Edward Bloom from the book/movie, “Big Fish.”  Maybe it’ll be an immensely profitable enterprise in the long-run, but who knows?  Ed bought a town, Hansen bought the possibility of a team. 

    Chris has got balls, passion, and vision. You gotta be blind to not see the benefit of bringing the NBA back to Seattle where it belongs, especially with this deal.  The only thing that would ice my cake would be Kevin Durant signing with the Sonics when his contract with OKC runs out. 

    Thanks Chris!  Hell yeah! 

    • Artthiel

       There were a lot of your kindred spirits and McRory’s tonight, Tim. I think Hansen shook the hand of every one.

  • Tim M.

    Hansen reminds me of Edward Bloom from the book/movie, “Big Fish.”  Maybe it’ll be an immensely profitable enterprise in the long-run, but who knows?  Ed bought a town, Hansen bought the possibility of a team. 

    Chris has got balls, passion, and vision. You gotta be blind to not see the benefit of bringing the NBA back to Seattle where it belongs, especially with this deal.  The only thing that would ice my cake would be Kevin Durant signing with the Sonics when his contract with OKC runs out. 

    Thanks Chris!  Hell yeah! 

    • Artthiel

       There were a lot of your kindred spirits and McRory’s tonight, Tim. I think Hansen shook the hand of every one.

  • Michael Kaiser

    “Rue the day,” eh?  Hilarious!  You know, I think Art is a big-time hoops fan.  I wonder if it is his favorite pro sport?

    • Artthiel

       Michael, my favorite sport is writing. I did enjoy basketball until the lockout in 1999. Now I enjoy soap operas, and this one is a dandy.

  • Michael Kaiser

    “Rue the day,” eh?  Hilarious!  You know, I think Art is a big-time hoops fan.  I wonder if it is his favorite pro sport?

    • Artthiel

       Michael, my favorite sport is writing. I did enjoy basketball until the lockout in 1999. Now I enjoy soap operas, and this one is a dandy.

  • Josie

    Great story, Art