In the nine years since the Sonics left Seattle to become the hated Thunder, we may have seen the largest single step to a new basketball arena in the Emerald City.
June 7th was a big day in Seattle sports. Mariners shortstop Jean Segura signed a five-year extension and the Mariners won in comeback, walk-off fashion to get back to .500. However, the lead story may be what happened on the Seattle Arena and Sonics front yesterday.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray selected the Oak View Group’s project as the winning bid. They plan on renovating historic KeyArena, essentially ending the hope for a SoDo arena. It is a $564 million endeavor that will also keep the KeyArena roof intact. It is a three-plus year project and according to reports they are hoping to have the renovation completed for the 2020-2021 NHL/NBA season.
As many Seattle fans are used to, this still does not guarantee a team such as the Sonics is coming to Seattle. Ground has not been broken. The shovel is not in the dirt yet. However, these plans are past the “embryonic stage” and do have some legs. This is the most solid piece of news about a possible arena in Seattle and a possible return of the Sonics in several years.
There are several concerns to be addressed before we all dance in the streets with Sonics gear on (and/or a potential NHL team which I suggested should be first). First, City Council needs to approve the final transaction. OVG is hoping for approval by the end of 2017. There are concerns about transportation and traffic (in Seattle? Never!). OVG CEO Tim Leiweke addressed the situation (via KIRO 7 News):
"We will deal with the neighborhood and the transportation issues. And we will…deal with it so that we are part of this $12 million a year campus and do it so that we have minimum disruption to the community."
Another hurdle is the fact that Mayor Ed Murray is not gunning for re-election due to his embarrassing underage sex scandal. It will be up to a new mayor to see the project through.
Leiweke was very bold about getting a team like the Sonics or perhaps teams, plural, to come to Seattle:
“We’re going to get you a team…Mark it right here. I promise you … we’re going to get you at least one team.”
Former Sonics player Lenny Wilkens also chimed in, ““If ever there was a chance for the Sonics to come back, it’s this opportunity here.”
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There is a lot of buzz around the NHL coming to Seattle first. Vancouver Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini was present at the announcement on Wednesday, supporting a Vancouver-Seattle hockey rivalry. Imagine how fun that would be!
In the NBA realm, David Bonderman has been introduced as a partner in this project. He has been a minority owner of the Boston Celtics for several years. He also was an investor in the deal that got Las Vegas an NHL team this past year.
There are a lot of big hitters who have come up to the plate for this deal. It is well-known that the SoDo Arena proposal was popular but Chris Hansen was beat out. However, Leiweke even offered to let Hansen be a part owner of Seattle’s next NBA team if he were to join forces with them.
There is finally some reason to hope as a Seattle sports fan. Seattle is the only top 25 sports market without an NHL or NBA team. It is time to change that. Keep your eyes on the dealings of City Council and the Mayor’s office. This isn’t a slam dunk yet but for the first time in years, plans for an arena, and the return of the Sonics, have taken flight.