BY Art Thiel 07:03PM 11/17/2016

‘Owner’ Wilson: Doesn’t he take enough hits?

Speaking about his desire to become a part-owner of a sports team with Chris Hansen, Russell Wilson says it will be “a quick process” on the arena. Um, Russell . . .

If Seahawks QB Russell Wilson thinks he’s harassed on Sundays, wait until he gets to be part owner of a pro sports franchise. / 360 Architects

If Russell Wilson’s life isn’t sufficiently difficult escaping on autumn Sundays from what he calls “the bears,” now the Seahawks quarterback will have some civic jackals snarling after his hide, following his partnership with Chris Hansen to develop an arena in Sodo.

“For a long time, I have wanted to own a team and be part of that,” Wilson, 28, said Thursday, in his first interview at Seahawks headquarters about wanting to buy in on his favorite childhood basketball team, the Sonics. “It’s a no-brainer to me why we should fight to bring and NBA team back here — an NHL team, too.

“It starts with the arena. It starts with getting the street vacation and doing all that work. It’ll be a quick process.”

That last remark awakened everyone in the room lulled by Wilson’s rhapsody about the community-building virtues of sports and his video-game love for the mid-90s Sonics of Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp.

As Hansen should have informed him, nothing about the Seattle process is quick. Nothing is assured. And if the mayor’s office and the city council have their unspoken way, Wilson has joined the losing team.

Mayor Ed Murray will issue in January a request for proposals for a remodeled (or new?) KeyArena, the aging doyenne of lower Queen Anne that the past half-dozen mayors have felt obliged to try to trick up at various times.

They sought to make it a city-owned venue of sufficient modernity to host the biggest concerts and pro sports events in order to keep Seattle Center, the city’s unofficial living room, financially viable.

Such a plan would put the Key in direct competition with Hansen’s project, now in its fifth year with neither a shovel nor a team in sight. Wilson’s introduction to the chore can be seen as an attempt by Hansen to give some high-profile fizz to the once-rejected project ahead of an improved re-submission that includes 100 percent privately financed construction, needing from the city only a vacation of two blocks of Occidental Avenue and some breaks in taxes.

What hasn’t changed is the arena location, on the front step of the Port of Seattle, which, like KeyArena, has seen better times. The port’s staunch opposition was successful on May 2 when the council by a 5-4 vote rejected Hansen’s bid for the street vacation, based largely on the unproven contention the proposed arena’s increased traffic would choke the port to death.

Hansen’s willingness to drop his request for up to $200 million in a public contribution to be paid back did not change the port’s opposition. Nor will it change despite the support of Wilson, the “chief football officer” of one of the port’s biggest clients, Alaska Airlines.

Not only are the electeds reluctant to pick another fight with the port and its allies, the sudden eagerness of the mayor to look at KeyArena again coincides with the expiration in one year of Hansen’s agreement with the city to develop his building, and his own bid for re-election that same November.

Not only that, two arena construction companies from Los Angeles, AEG and the lesser-known Oak View Group, have told the mayor that a remodel is theoretically plausible.

What the developers don’t know, and city officials are eager to find out, is the impacts on on the neighborhood surrounding the center. A quick drive/walk around the Center will tell even those without a degree in urban planning that the lower Queen Anne neighborhood has undergone massive change in the eight years since the Sonics were hijacked with city permission.

That was among the priority topics at a recent public meeting of the Uptown Alliance, a community group most impacted by Center activities. In one of the first public explainers of Murray’s ambitions with the Key, the meeting hosted four city officials, including Brian Surratt, director of Seattle’s Office of Economic Development (OED) and point man on Murray’s arena idea.

He said that the city’s decision to seek RFPs was not competition with Hansen, but standard procedure prior to considering Hansen’s new proposal, which if approved would have negative impacts on the Center. The Key has been operating in the black annually since Sonics owner Clay Bennett paid off the building’s remaining $45 million in debt.

“If we didn’t look at options for the Key, we would not be doing our jobs,” he said.

Surratt and city officials couldn’t offer specifics — that’s what the bids are for — but they did hear concern from several residents about being potentially overwhelmed by a minimum 84 event dates for NBA/NHL games, plus an unknown number of top-shelf concerts and flat shows that can’t be accommodated now by the Key.

One resident pointed out that since the Sonics departed, at least 50 projects have been or are being built on land that previously held parking lots. Another said that current sellouts trap residents with traffic jams before and after events.

Another posed a bigger question, whether a massive new entertainment center is the best use for what he termed an “urban-resident village” that is already overwhelmed.

No one had answers. But the questions are a big part of a fresh conversation that is only beginning for Center users and residents. And nobody asked the biggest question: Who pays for it?

Two things are known about the Hansen project: A big reason he chose the Sodo site was because it had no private residences that would be displaced, and he now proposes to pay for the whole thing, plus public amenities not part of the arena proper.

We offer some of these factors as a small help to Wilson to understand that there will be no quick process. The city wants options, and Hansen needs a street vacation in order to pursue a team. The goals aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive — unless the city maneuvers to make it so by stalling the process past the expiration of Hansen’s deal with the city.

We also know a couple of things about Wilson: He understands how to maneuver in the most harrowing of circumstances, and he plays though pain that would drop most people.

Both virtues should prove useful in his new endeavor.



  • Matt712

    High profile fizz? Wilson’s partnership drops a Mentos into Hanson’s bottle of cola. From toddlers to grandparents, Russ has become Seattle’s favorite adopted son. Just one eventual news conference where he might express his “disappointment in Mayor Murray’s lack of vision” or “bewilderment at the council’s disregard for the community virtues of pro sports” would be a pretty big ‘Oh sh#!’ moment for those electeds. Throw in a Super Bowl win for good measure.

    • art thiel

      Now that Hansen has agreed to privately fund an arena, the mayor and council have much less rationale for rejection. Not sure Wilson adds more than optics to Hansen’s side.

      • Playhouse

        Yeah, but optics was exactly the argument the Port used to fight against the street vacation. It sure wasn’t facts.

        • art thiel

          That’s true. Hansen was out-flanked by the port’s strategy of playing the poor-workers card, which gave council a fig leaf of cover.

      • Howard Wells

        since when have rational thinking elected officials made any rational thoughts about the Key Arena? Five city council people and a mayor have in fact taken the opposite tack and have promised to carry a few perceived personal insults from basketball fans to the pinnacle of self righteousness….the level achieved by the one and only Frank Chopp. Oh and now maybe tha of the president elect.

  • Buggy White

    Key quote that shows how ridiculous the KeyArena idea is: “One resident pointed out that since the Sonics departed, at least 50 projects have been or are being built on land that previously held parking lots.” Ten years ago parking on Queen Anne during Sonics games was bad, but now it would be impossible.

    • art thiel

      Amazing how much has changed in that neighborhood since the Sonics’ last game.

    • Playhouse

      But hey, that’s all going to change once they get the light rail line in there. No one will ever want to drive to LQA again, so they won’t need any parking.

      I mean, right?!

      • art thiel

        I’m still waiting for my Jetsons’ flying car.

  • Brion

    Not to be “that guy” but if Trumps election taught us anything its that experience doesnt necessarily mean as much to some as posturing and talk …so it definitely cant hurt to have Russell aboard to help sway the masses that building a new arena would help make Seattle great again.

    • Gerald Turner

      Why do you have to taint my sports Refuge with political taLk?

      • Brion

        My bad, was kiddin around, sorry for the bad joke.

        • art thiel

          We’ve seen worse.

      • art thiel

        I didn’t ask Wilson to partner with Hansen. Take it up with him.

        • Gerald Turner

          Sorry, I was replying to one of your commentators who dragged in the presidential election. Back to sports, why could C Mike only make one move? And would fall down when hit? So weird.

    • art thiel

      I knew someone was going to draw the bombast-over-enlightenment analogy to Trump. Winner winner, chicken dinner.

      • Brion

        Wow, thank you i really wasnt expecting to win this award, Id like to thank the foreign press, my fellow commenters, that kid that whined about me “tainting his sports refuge”, Art Thiel for the amazing article, the man up above, Kanye West , John Grisham, Jude Angelini and lastly my freshman English teacher for flunking me and telling me i would never amount to anything…guess the jokes on you Ms. Thatcher. ..thank you goodnight .

  • Gerald Turner

    I think he needs to bring that 4 Super Bowl rings plan to completion first.

    • art thiel

      I guessing he’s fairly good at multi-tasking.

  • Kirkland

    Questions for Mr. Thiel, a professional journalist:

    1) Who do you think grill him harder with questions, the Council or grizzled sportswriters?; and

    2) Would he be able to give eloquent answers (whether they actually answer the questions or not) to the Council like he does with sportswriters?

    • art thiel

      I doubt the council would put a small-percentage owner on the hot seat. At a council meeting, he likely would get his two-minute portion of the public comment period, get a standing O, and leave. Wilson is window-dressing that gives an air of viability to sports fans. I’d be more impressed with a partner committing $200M to construction.

  • The idea that Seattle Center is a viable location for a major sports arena is absurd on its face. I worked in lower Queen Ann from late 2013 to early this year. The Amazon construction in SLU and the massive residential build out in lower Queen Anne makes it totally infeasible. No one would be able to get to the games on time, let alone park their cars. The POS, er I mean Port of Seattle need to get their proverbial heads out of their butts and the city electeds should try leading rather than dithering.
    Good luck to Danger Russ and Doug Hansen. Let’s get this done.

    • art thiel

      I take your eyewitness account at face value. After attending the Alliance meeting, I was made aware of how the lower QA residents feel about being pinned in by big-event traffic. There’s no metric that counts that.

      • I don’t think they were sold on the laundry list of multi-modal transportation options. Living in the influence of traffic was their common knowledge.

        The heat coming off the fella from KEXP was really interesting. They are their neighbor, not just a thing nearby. That was both great to see and sad to see them face this. They made a big move and don’t want to get lost in all this. It’s the rug getting pulled from underneath them is what they face. They had assurances, but they know it would be difficult for them, at least in the near term.

        The meeting was in one of those 50 projects, and they are well aware of it. I’ll be very interested in seeing the questions they come up with, and how well the city can answer them.

        • art thiel

          Good points, Baker. I would guess that the lower QA folks and Center users, even when they see transpo options, will go NIMBY.

          People who consider the Center Seattle’s living room won’t want the equivalent of a Metallica concert playing there 150+ times a year.

  • The question not answered by opponents of the SoDo arena was, “Who will pay for KeyArena?”

    Now with Hansen privately financing construction it does put the city in a box. Not moving forward with either one would be a failure that would be difficult to live down.

    • art thiel

      Murray and council all understand their constituencies won’t let them contribute much of substance to a Key remodel. That means a private developer would pay 100 percent of the costs to build on land it doesn’t own, nor have much influence on traffic/parking. Highly unlikely.

      But if the city finds a billionaire civic do-gooder to take charge by paying most if not all . . .

      • They do have to ask, and now seems to be the time for asking with the CBA wrapping up.

        It’s a tall order.