NHL To Seattle: No Arena Approval Until 2016?


It seemingly came out of nowhere and would never lose momentum. Chris Hansen burst onto the scene a few years ago with big plans to bring the NBA and NHL to Seattle, and right from the get-go the pieces seemed to be falling into place unbelievably fast. The buzz was tremendous, and the general feeling was one of “woah, this might really happen.”

On the brink of 2015, things have been at a standstill for a little while. There have been failed attempts at luring existing franchises to the Emerald City. There have been beautiful design mock-ups of the potential new stadium. But there hasn’t been a new team, let alone a new stadium. And there might not be for a while longer.

According to a report from The Seattle Times, the standstill involves several level of government and could threaten to stall the project for at least another year. Gridlock within the city’s Planning and Developing department could back the whole operation up to the point where expansion happens without Seattle being able to get involved.

The NHL has recently become much more clear about their desires to add a couple new teams, with Seattle long seen as one of the most serious suitors. Seattle may seem like an ideal destination for a new hockey franchise, but they’re not alone – Las Vegas and Quebec City are also heavily involved with the NHL’s expansion committee.

While Nevada and Quebec are legitimate potential hosts for an NHL expansion team, Seattle is thought to have the leg up in the league’s eye because of potential market size, a sleeping giant of a fan base, and an existing natural rival in the Vancouver Canucks. But Vegas and Quebec both have something Seattle doesn’t – an arena.

Hansen wants to get his plans for a new venue approved as soon as possible, not wanting to miss out on what could be the opportunity of a lifetime. He’s checking out options for an NHL-first scenario, which would probably involve finding an owner for the team and a partner for the arena. But the city is skeptical it can get anything approved in 2015.

An Environmental Impact Statement is in the works, but these things are oft-delayed. Then there’s the request to vacate a stretch of Oxidental Avenue that runs through the arena site, and that too needs approval. This decision could be filed by March, but these things are almost always appealed. By the time the appeals process is done, it could be mid-summer. And then it would be August by the time a vote took place, and then there’s a building permit for each step of the process, and then the county gets a shot at appealing the city’s final vote.

You can see how hairy this gets, and how quickly. The balance is quite delicate, with Hansen’s team trying to get this thing done as quickly as possible while the city takes it’s rigid approach that could snag indefinitely at any step. The NHL is fully aware of the situations in each of their top three expansion target cities. They know they’ve got two arenas and one dream.

Seattle’s best bet is to hope that the NHL is in love with them. If the league is sold on Seattle, then they’ll wait. But Las Vegas is holding a season ticket drive right now. Quebec City has the rich hockey history. This could easily blow up in Seattle’s face, and if it does, it’ll be one hell of a letdown. This is clearly the city’s clearest path to a new team since the Sonics left.

We don’t yet know if the city can or will do anything to speed up the process, but if that’s the case we sure haven’t heard anything about it yet. For now it seems like they’re okay with sticking to their guns and letting this thing play itself out the slow, painful way. We always knew there were going to be hurdles, but it’s hard to prepare for hurdles of this apparent magnitude.

Seattle might get an NHL expansion team. They might not, and if that’s the case, it’s likely going to be because the city couldn’t get an arena deal in place fast enough. Time isn’t exactly running out, but in a sense, time is running out. The faster this gets done, the better. And right now, fast seems like a lot to ask for.