The possibility that NBA basketball returns to the city of Seattle in the not-so-distant future has grown considerably as details emerge about intensified talks between Mayor Mike McGinn, City Council members and Christopher Hansen, a billionaire hedge fund manager who is leading up the potential investment team that would finance the construction of a new stadium. For more on the complicated legal, financing and political proceedings, read Friday’s report in the Seattle Times. Or hear from Mayor McGinn himself, who joined KJR in Seattle this week to field questions about the developments and to share his thoughts on what the future might hold for a city that saw its team hijacked and taken away to Oklahoma City two years ago.
McGinn joined KJR in Seattle with Ian Furness to talk about where things stand in terms of bringing an NBA team back to the city of Seattle, the rules in place that would allow for the public to vote to modify aspects of Initiative 91 as well as the City Council, whether that possibility has been discussed by city leaders, if the city is closer today than it was three or six months ago to beginning construction on a new stadium, what the biggest hurdle is for investors to clear before moving forward on construction on a new stadium within city limits, if a hockey need would also need to be housed in the new stadium for investors to move forward, and whether there’s any possibility that public funds would be used to fund the project.
On where things stand generally with the city trying to bring an NBA team back to Seattle:
“Basically, the city can’t go into an arena as a money losing proposition, it’s the way I think about it to summarize it. So that I think is the challenge of I-91, and it’s a fair position for people to take I believe, because we do face very difficult budget and economic times and we have to make sure that we’re making the most out of our tax dollars.”
On being able to modify I-91 as any potential roadblock to bringing an NBA team to town:
“This is true of any referendum or initiative — once adopted by the public and after the passage of time, it can be modified by the City Council. But any action of the City Council, or most actions of the City Council I should say, significant actions of the City Council are themselves subject to public vote potentially. So it’s just a show of responsibility, really. But yeah, they can be modified.”
Whether that has been discussed by city leaders:
“You’re way ahead of the game. You’re ahead of the game as to the issues we face, because there’s the legal issue, but I think what’s far more important to me is the public statement. Because they’re my bosses, everybody’s got a boss, and they’re my boss — the public and the city is my boss. And what they told us in my vote was that this is important to them that we protect our city finances when we look at any potential stadium deal. So I take that instruction pretty seriously.”
Is the city closer today than it was three or six months ago to building a new stadium:
“I think we have to say we are much closer than we were three months ago, six months ago or a year ago. I do think we have to say that. And I say that because Chris Hansen is a serious committed investor who appears to have the financial wherewithal and the business knowledge to move forward. And we at the city side, when I met Chris and when we heard from him and his interest, and the fact he’s from Seattle and interested in Seattle, we felt it was important for us to understand what our constraints were, to understand what we were could possibly do. And so to be in a position to make decisions and to talk with Chris. So those two things have occurred. So you have on both sides of the equation a very serious level of commitment, and that’s very different than it was a year ago. Now, again, I have to keep saying this: I cannot say how this all ends. Because I know there’s a lot of excitement out there, and it would be a big financial commitment from the investors. They have to make their decision, we have to see how far they’re willing to go and judge how far we’re willing to go. Hopefully it will all meet in the middle.”
On what the biggest hurdle is that investors must clear to getting construction started on a new stadium inside city limits:
“I would say the starting point is probably does it pencil financially from their side, and does it pencil out financially from our side. I think those are the two big questions. That’s the first major hurdle, and if you can’t get over that one, you can’t get to any other hurdles. And I think once we reach that point where we think we have something that protects our city budget, protects our long term interests as a city, and takes advantage of that opportunity, maybe other hurdles will emerge and at that point we’ll see what they are. But I kind of think that’s the starting point. And we’ve been very clear about what we think is important on our side.”
Whether their would need to be a hockey team as well as a NBA team in order to make the deal work:
“My understanding is that they’re interested in both, and that that’s an important consideration to them.”
Does he see any way in which public funds will be raised to help pay for a new stadium:
“I think that again, our view is that we have to make sure that whatever the structure of the deal is, we’re not dipping into other accounts to pay for this, or coming up with some new tax source to go to the public for. So we have to work within those restraints.”