BY Art Thiel 05:37PM 09/12/2017

Thiel: The NBA doesn’t need Seattle’s hassles

After Mayor Ed Murray’s scandal-driven resignation Tuesday, it is reasonable to ask, given its history here, why the NBA would want to come back to a building owned by this city.

Another odd day in the saga of KeyArena’s future. / Ballparks.com

Gathered Tuesday morning at a small plaza at the north end of KeyArena next to radio station KEXP, media members and other interested parties awaited a press conference by the Seattle mayor’s office and Oak View Group CEO Tim Leiweke to discuss details of the draft memorandum of understanding they signed to create a grand concert hall/hockey arena/monument to Ed Murray at the Seattle Center.

Murray’s spokesman, Benton Strong, walked over to a group of reporters wondering why things were running late.

“Press conference has been canceled,” he said. Startled, we all thought he was joking.  Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times asked why.

“Look at your paper,” he said.

The headline popped up on all our phones: “Mayor Ed Murray’s cousin: He sexually abused me, too.”

Gah. Again.

Cameras came down. Chairs folded up. People walked away.

Two hours later, Murray resigned his office on the day he booked to celebrate a triumph in his tenure.

He hoped his accidental but colossal potential save of the dowager of lower Queen Anne would create an alternative legacy to a sex scandal. Instead, it becomes unforgettable because of its ironic coincidence.

The resignation also puts a spotlight on another little secret that has been part of the arena saga since the Sonics were hijacked to Oklahoma City, one no one wants to acknowledge.

The NBA really doesn’t want one of its franchises to have anything to do with outfits as goofy as Seattle’s municipal government and Washington’s state government.

The NBA will officially deny such bias, and Leiweke, who has worked in the front offices of the Denver Nuggets and Toronto Raptors, will insist that the NBA is eager to come to such a robust marketplace, once an arena is up and running.

Leiweke may be right, but it may happen only after everyone in the NBA who remembers the sequence of events under the Sonics ownerships of Barry Ackerley, Howard Schultz and Clay Bennett, is dead.

The NBA was so burned by the collective experience in Seattle, including the award-winning documentary film Sonicsgate that exposed its duplicity, that if one were to step into the owners’ Louis Vuitton alligator shoes for a moment,  it would be possible to see their point, without necessarily accepting it.

No matter how tricked out is the new building, and no matter what kind of firewall Leiweke erects to keep government out of the entertainment business, the arena will still be the only venue in the NBA/NHL that is in a public park, which is its own department of city government. And everyone who uses the park, or lives or works around it, will perpetually demand a say in its fate.

It is probably the biggest vulnerability of Leiweke’s stupendous offer, and the biggest virtue of Chris Hansen’s project in Sodo, also privately funded — and privately owned. All it will cost the city is permissions.

The NBA’s spidey sense recalls all the legal fights, ruthless castigations and relentless refusals to spend public money on one of its playpens. The subsequent shudder tells it to stay away from the old public house in Seattle that had no good ways in or out.

To Leiweke’s inevitable, “But . . . but,”  the league can say, “You just partnered with a guy accused of perverse acts that forced him from office. What the hell do you know, Tim?”

Besides that, should the NBA down the road decide to forgive and forget the sordid history in Seattle, it will be the third priority in the building behind the LiveNation concert schedule (the promotions company is a partner in the building remodel) and the NHL team that is proposed to be ready for occupancy for the October 2020 opening.

NBA teams are used to controlling all or most revenue streams of the buildings they occupy. But as the MOU explains, all revenues in the new building will be dedicated to OVG and the city.

It’s easy to not care what NBA/NHL owners claim to want, but it is also easy for prospective franchise owners to go elsewhere to avoid a bad deal. Since the NBA has claimed it has no plans to expand,  and no franchise appears vulnerable to relocation, the issue of suitability for the NBA in the OVG building is a distant consideration.

But it was a primary consideration for Hansen, who has spent six years and $125 million in property purchases to bring back the Sonics.

Hansen has his own problems. He doesn’t have a team to activate the sequence in his MOU that could vacate Occidental Avenue South and begin construction. And until he gets that, he likely won’t get a financial partner to be the majority owner of the team (BTW, the NBA Houston Rockets were sold last week to a local buyer for $2.2 billion, or $200 million more than Hansen’s old partner, Steve Ballmer, paid for the Los Angeles Clippers. The price of entry grows steeper).

Apparently what Hansen most lacks is a dated civic asset to remodel, thus galvanizing electeds and city employees alike to embrace the OVG proposal. The irony here is that the city is solving for a problem it never knew it had — the lack of a premium concert venue of 15,000-plus seats.

The OVG project can’t even solve for the transportation problems it will create around the Center, for the simple reason that they aren’t solvable, only made tolerable at best. Yes, things will change with the 2019 opening of the new Highway 99 tunnel, but with the loss of the old highway’s exits into downtown,  no one can truly say the changes will be for the better for Center users.

Regarding the more current consideration of the exit of Murray from the arena project, the practical impact seems likely to be minimal. The mayor’s office and OVG have signed the MOU, whose fate rests with the City Council. Since he was a lame duck leaving at his term’s end Dec. 31, he had no political leverage to influence the council.

Most of his directors, including Brian Surratt of the Office of Economic Development and the real driver of the arena agenda, probably have done well enough to warrant retention.

All Murray will have is his legacy, which by any accounting is strange.

He has said repeatedly his goal with the arena was to help dispel stereotypes by being the first openly gay mayor to bring sports to his city. Yet he was driven from office by allegations of sex with minors.

I can imagine only one response from the NBA to the latest arena news from Seattle: Eye rolls, forehead slaps and crickets.


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YourThoughts

  • wabubba67

    Exactly the right take. No need to comment further.

    • art thiel

      Thanks. There’s still many storylines out there.

  • Steed

    Choir Director Steed here, Reverend Art. We all agree with you. There is no reason the NBA would want a team playing in city owned Key Arena. And that’s just one of the problems with that location.

    Isn’t there some kind of conflict of interest here? The city makes decisions that allow or do not allow someone like Hansen to build an arena, while they also own Key Arena and want it to make money. A clear conflict.

    • art thiel

      I understand your point, but the city has a fiduciary obligation to to protect its assets and finances. The city in general cannot be faulted for responding favorably to $600 million in private money to fix a civic asset. The main questions are whether the project is financially sound and whether transpo/parking mitigations are sufficient. Leiweke’s not done a remodel on public property before.

    • Playhouse

      Hansen could’ve picked a different site that didn’t require the city giving up publicly-owned property to make his project a reality. Hansen made that choice.

      • Steed

        Good point.

        But, what if Hansen didn’t need the public property, and all he needed was a building permit?

        Would the city say yes, go ahead and build your arena? Or would they say no, we don’t want your building competing with ours?

  • Beckett Tallmadge

    I’m tired, Art, really tired…..I don’t know how much more I can take of this whole saga.

    • art thiel

      C’mon, Beckett. Suck it up. If I can stand it, so can you.

  • Effzee

    Great take. We should change the name of our state to the State of Crazypants, USA. We royally screw up the cannabis laws, allow rogue minority groups to shut down state-funded college campuses, and a clown show is running our largest city. We look a gift horse in the mouth (Hansen), while allowing the Port to lie through their teeth, and we let the highest bidder determine the fate of downtown commuting by digging a tunnel through unstable land in a fault zone under the city that is already built on top of an old city. Everybody hates the traffic, nobody will vote for a viable mass transit system, but they pay almost $5 a pop to cross the lake. I can’t wrap my mind around it. The only thing we can say “no” to is anything that makes a lick of sense.

    • art thiel

      After that cheery rendition, it’s time for a scotch, then bed.

    • Steed

      Add to your list the fact that there is no really good Indian lunch buffet downtown anymore. Not since Pabla on 2nd closed.

      • art thiel

        Don’t make me interject about the loss of the Dog House restaurant (“Tenderness not guaranteed”).

        • Gary

          Ah yes….The Dog House! Only a true Seattleite or ex-PI employee would understand. Probably the beginning of the decline of the Jet City, but I digress.

  • Matt712

    I’m with what seems to be the majority of folks who believe that the SoDo location is a better choice for an arena, for all the logical reasons speculated ad nauseam over the last however long it’s been. Hanson’s plan is both generous and sound in almost every respect with regard to getting it built… except one, and it’s a doozy. Breaking ground only if an NBA team is secured? Sonics fans (and I’m one of them) are looking more and more like Linus sitting in a pumpkin patch.

    Meanwhile, along comes not one but two groups of industry titans who wish to do the full HGTV on an aging civic landmark, and on their dime, but with the unspeakable notion that *shutter* …it may not be a sports-first facility?!! Oh the horror. I happen to love live music, and Seattle Center, and shiny new things.

    Traffic? It’s as much a part of city life as all the accoutrements of hanging out in a major metropolis. Let’s be honest; it’s an annoyance, not a show-stopper. Increased traffic thrust upon the good people of lower Queen Anne? Honestly, I really don’t care. (Sorry Lauren). I had no issues attending Bumbershoot a week ago that I haven’t had in the last twenty years. I did what the other 100,000+ attendees did: I planned and made do. Come to think of it, it’s the same story for any event I attend no matter where it happens to be.

    Look, I loved the Sonics. I’d love to have them back. And ideally, it would be in a beautiful new building Chris Hansen constructed for us near a vacated portion of Occidental Avenue south of Safeco Field. But if we’re all waiting on the NBA (and let’s not kid ourselves about who’s holding the aces) especially after the epic faceplant, complete with an egg, that was the attempted acquisition of the Kings, well… Sorry to crap on everyone’s Great Pumpkin Lattes.

    As for St. Hansen, he could just totally rethink his plan: Forget about an arena in SoDo. Instead, build a big warehouse – a really big warehouse – that stores stadium style seats, restaurant equipment, flooring, lighting, electronics, etc… and he could arrange those wares in any configuration he chooses. Just a thought.

    • Bruce McDermott

      Received for the Linus reference alone. Great image.

    • art thiel

      A well-grounded response, Whatever the limitations of the Center site, all the electeds, many supportive of the port, see more civic upside there. And the NBA privately thinks Seattle is nuts and has little reason to expand here.

      And I agree with Bruce below: Perfect imagery. I plan on stealing it, with credit.

  • Steven Patrick

    Dead-on, sir. So…since the buidling of an arena in the city – with or without the city’s financial participation – would put whatever owners are involved in SOME close relationship with the city (there is no plan currently proposed that would not give the Council a BIG say in construction, traffic, taxes, etc.) the obvious remedy would be to build an arena OUTSIDE Seattle…and that seems to be some sort of Rubicon that We Shall Not Cross. WHY?!? I’ve heard a steady stream of ridiculous excuses that all add up to “We MUST keep this in Seattle!”, chanted like some chorus of extras from “Invasion of The Body Snatchers”, and that regular refrain of how we can’t build an arena Elsewhere if nobody wants to build one. Well, why would anybody even propose one when it’s universally assumed that it HAS TO be in Seattle? Unless they just get off on being ridiculed. (Different strokes…) Pistons in Auburn Hills. Jets and Giants in ANOTHER GD STATE(!), Rangers in Arlington, the list goes on. WHY do ALL of our arenas have to be in the highest-density urban areas in this state? I’m squarely in Hansen’s corner but…THREE major arenas within six city blocks? Again…WHY?? I dearly love this city and state and its location but it sometimes seems that every smoking ember of irrationality and provincialism on this continent broke off, rolled up here, and lodged into this corner.

    • Steed

      It’s an area of special zoning created by the city. It’s called THE STADIUM DISTRICT. It’s where the stadia are supposed to go.

  • StephenBody

    Dead-on, sir. So…since the building of an arena in the city – with or without the city’s financial participation – would put whatever owners are involved in SOME close relationship with the city (there is no plan currently proposed that would not give the Council a BIG say in construction, traffic, taxes, permits, etc.) the obvious remedy would be to build an arena OUTSIDE Seattle…and that seems to be some sort of Rubicon that We Shall Not Cross. WHY?!? I’ve heard a steady stream of ridiculous excuses that all add up to “We MUST keep this in Seattle!”, chanted like some chorus of extras from “Invasion of The Body Snatchers”, and that regular refrain of how we can’t build an arena Elsewhere if nobody wants to build one. Well, why would anybody even propose one when it’s universally assumed that it HAS TO be in Seattle? Unless they just get off on being ridiculed. (Different strokes…) Pistons in Auburn Hills. Jets and Giants in ANOTHER GD STATE(!), Rangers in Arlington, the list goes on. WHY do ALL of our arenas have to be in the highest-density urban areas in this state? I’m squarely in Hansen’s corner but…THREE major arenas within six city blocks? Again…WHY?? I dearly love this city and state and its location but it sometimes seems that every smoking ember of irrationality and provincialism on this continent broke off, rolled up here, and lodged into this corner.

    • Kirkland

      Suburban stadiums are fine for weekend-only football. But here’s why the arena needs to be in the city: Suburban arenas are dang near impossible to get to during the week. The Arizona Coyotes never had trouble in Phoenix proper, but the highway to Glendale is a parking lot during rush hour, and even diehard fans would rather catch the game on TV than sit through that. Even the Pistons are leaving Auburn Hills for the new downtown Little Caesar’s Arena this season, and the Ottawa Senators want to move from their suburban rink.

      SoDo would be next door to Link, bus routes (I bus in from the Eastside on weekdays for the Sounders), and two interstates. The other locations, suburban and otherwise, are subpar at best for traffic flow.

  • DAWG

    “Well, yes. And, what’s your point?” Famous Seattle Sports Journalist quote. Nope. No. Nada. Nein. Nyet. What part of “NO” will the City understand from the NBA? Does the City have the ability to look at itself objectively from an NBA owner’s point of view ? If the City does, then, they should understand NBA will not welcome any partnership with the City. Oh, sure, smiles and warm handshakes all around while negotiating with Leiweke, but when it comes down to it and after the deal has been sealed, NBA will have no problem cooling and distancing from the phony pleasantries and hard reality will settle in. Schmucks. Putz. Easy mark. SELF DELUDED FOOLS.

  • Airplane Driver

    How delicious the irony that the biggest Key Arena honk Geoff Baker gets stunned in that manner.
    You succinctly point out what few other local media type care to point out – no NHL or NBA owner in their right mind would want the Seattle version of a Park & Recreation sitcom as business arena partners.
    To quote that elder statesman Dana Carvey as Bush 41. “…Not gonna do it…wouldn’t be prudent…”

    • art thiel

      We all were surprised. Baker’s surprise should discourage those who see conspiracy in all that the Times does.

      • Airplane Driver

        Except that being surprised does not necessarily excuse their prior, uneven representation of each plan. To most of us, it’s fairly clear which way they align themselves.

        • art thiel

          The anecdote is a one-off, having nothing to do with coverage, but it does point out that the Times is not always plotting.

      • twistandturns

        No conspiracy, just a confused writer that interjects “facts” with editorial type narratives. Or the ego is just so big that he needs to prove he’s much more than a beat writer.

      • There can still be a Seattle Times conspiracy without Baker knowing about it. If it was my plot and my paper I wouldn’t tell him about it.

    • soundersfan84

      Then why is half the teams playing in publicly owns arenas?

      • art thiel

        The public is subsidizing many privately owned buildings, and even those that are owned technically by a public authority, such as Safeco and Clink, the privates still run the show. OVG says it will be in charge of all arena ops, but the public will still make demands of “our” building.

        • Kirkland

          So in theory, the Seattle Center could tell OVG “No hockey games on dates the PNB is performing ‘The Nutcracker'”?

  • Jared S.

    The NBA was so burned by the collective experience in Seattle

    So the NBA considers themselves the injured party in what happened here, huh? Hilarious. I was a big fan and I understand the desire to get a team back, but maybe at some point we should take the hint and reciprocate.

    Also I’m not sure the Murray scandal would bother the league considering their relationship (as we saw) with Kevin Johnson

    • art thiel

      Of course they think they are the aggrieved party. Stern never admitted error publicly.

      Murray’s resignation merely adds to the NBA skepticism of Seattle’s political leadership that goes back decades.

      • Jared S.

        I’m way past the point of expecting them to have any conscience or admission of wrongdoing. But if they actually think they acted honestly and earnestly throughout the whole thing…well that’s pretty delusional. I guess they were just ahead of the curve on alternative facts.

        • art thiel

          Not sure I’d call this wrongdoing, but the absence of fair consideration for Hansen, and the rush to beat an artificial deadline with an MOU, is not necessarily in the best interests of the city.

          • Jared Smith

            I was actually referring to the NBA’s conduct circa 2006-2008. Sorry if that wasn’t clear

      • soundersfan84

        I think the NBA is more skeptical about rahter the city will actually approve an arena than a Scandal by the mayor. By the time the NBA grants a team to seattle if they do. This issue will be long in the past.

        • soundersfan84

          Another point if Hansen gotten the street vacation last year, Sodo arena would been city owned too. So the NBA is gonna say no to that too?

          • art thiel

            Murray’s scandal was never a deal-stopper, just another example of a city govt that can’t shoot straight.

            Hansen’s site is on private property, not a public park, and the city gets ownership at the end of the lease.

      • Ken S.

        …Seattle’s political leadership…Not often I agree with Stern/NBA…

    • soundersfan84

      That’s a good point though. Why would NBA be so considered about this issue with Murray when there was the Kevin Johnson issue.

      • art thiel

        Sleazy as Johnson was discovered to be, he’s the NBA’s knd of sleazy.

    • Kirkland

      Johnson, remember, was a former NBA player. They were helping one of their own.

  • Howard Wells

    I will hope that the City recognizes it will get a great return for its citizens with a smaller concert only arena at the Seattle Center (in a City of Seattle PARK). I would hope that the less traffic stressful (sodo) stadium district would appeal to the City Council as an easier way to improve its citizens’ enjoyment of professional sports.

    • Kirkland

      Imagine a premiere for a new Star Wars movie in the amphitheater to kick off the Film Festival.

  • soundersfan84

    Easily to say that they NBA doesn’t want to come to seattle to play in a city own arena when they already have teams playing in arenas that are owned by the local city or country goverment.

    American Airlines Arena is own the the county there.

    American Airlines Center is owned by the city of Dallas.

    • soundersfan84

      If the NBA is so worried how a public official behaves themselves and that is going to determine rather or not the market will still have a NBA team or get a NBA team. Then i can see the NBA market map look a whole lot different. The NBA doesn’t care about if there is any government scandal. Its not their problem. The only problem is if its involves the ownership group that wants the team to where it damages the leagues image.

  • It was baffling to me that intentionally ignoring the past as the mayor’s team wanted, ignoring why many people gave this subject attention for years, and a documentary describing how the NBA left, just wasn’t considered.

    Murray was hoping to sign the approved MOU. Proponent pushing for a quick approval to avoid the change in pols and opinions, as was the case with the mayor from 2012 to 2016. Durkan or Moon will be mayor, will they want to look at what they are being asked to go do? Even if they pick KeyArena and to heck with NBA fans, Ed Murray was thinking about Ed. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/de9ce45087915d50c594f27e1dd07e4a11cf76da938ebe7b95e142fbda6758aa.jpg

  • DAWG
  • DAWG

    Citizens of Seattle, lighten up ! There are only 392 Crazy Sonics Zealots. They come and they go.

  • Brandon M

    So I guess were doomed to be forever “leverage city” to the NBA. Thanks Howard Shultz!!

    • Ken S.

      Haven’t bought a StarF**ks since that bonehead sold out to the country bumpkins.

  • Kirkland

    Is the NHL as leery of the “arena in public park” issue as the NBA seems to be? In any case, I hope the Council pumps the brakes on the Key MOU. You’re looking at several thousand cars coming to Lower Queen Anne 40 times a year; any EIS worth its salt needs at least 18 months on that issue alone.

    I have to admit schadenfreund (spelling?) . Tim Leiwicke keeps preaching about Hansen not playing by the rules and stuff. The Sacramento ballot and late Key submission are small indiscretions, though, compared to the vile allegations against Murray.

  • 1coolguy

    Well done Art – nothing to add other than that! Thank you

  • None

    There are so many other issues that our city/region faces that this seems so trivial to me. If you want to watch basketball, we have it. If you want to watch hockey, we have it. We also have multiple music venues that range in size from small club shows to arena shows. Putting another sports facility in SoDo will exacerbate an already stressed infrastructure, and make traffic even worse. Would love to see more resources and energy (from our city and the private sector) addressing issues that have negatively impacted other cities. Homelessness, affordable housing, education to name a few.

    • art thiel

      Of course many priorities are greater than an arena. But no one is offering $600M in private money to fix them. Developers can’t make money doing good deeds. America 101.

  • It looks like the Seattle City Council is going to hand over KeyArena to OVG. A backroom deal cut by a sleaze like Murray should never be passed by the council, but it sure seems like it is already decided.

    • art thiel

      $600 million is hard for any elected to turn down, no matter its origins.

  • Robin & Maynard

    Goofy city council? Nooo…not here in Topsy Turvey town. Sorry to see a 600 mil infusion into the arena go bust. Would make a nice glitzy backdrop for all of the tents. Can’t park in front of the area. Camping’s okay.