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Seattle takes step toward new arena, but has sights set on NBA

Seattle SuperSonics supporters Joseph Chong, left, David Brown, center, and Kris Brannon share a laugh as they wait for a news conference to begin Wednesday, May 16, 2012, in Seattle.

Elaine Thompson/AP/Elaine Thompson/AP

Hockey fans in Quebec City have received some good news from officials in Seattle, who appear to be softening their interest in an NHL team in preference for an NBA franchise.

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn announced Wednesday that the city and King County had signed a memorandum of understanding with hedge fund manager Chris Hansen to build an 18,500-seat arena. The governments plan to contribute $200-million (U.S.) in total to the project and Hansen will invest $300-million. Hansen, who is from Seattle but lives in San Francisco, will also cover the costs of acquiring NBA and NHL teams. The city will own the building and the government money will be repaid through a tax on arena revenue. Both levels of government still have to approve the deal.

When the project was announced last February, McGinn indicated that government funding depended on Hansen securing franchises in both leagues. But on Wednesday, the Mayor said Hansen only had to get an NBA team for the project to begin and government cash to start flowing, up to $120-million. "It would be a real shot in the arm [to the city]to bring back the Sonics," McGinn told a press conference.

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The memorandum of understanding also makes it clear Seattle is more interested in the NBA. The agreement contains far more details relating to the NBA than the NHL, including a requirement that the basketball team reclaim the name Seattle SuperSonics as well as all records and memorabilia associated with the former team. The Sonics relocated to Oklahoma City in 2008 after 41 years in Seattle.

Hansen is a big basketball fan and he has indicated that he would lead the charge on acquiring an NBA team and find a partner to go after the NHL. "Having a binding agreement will help to bid on a team," he said Wednesday. He has also pledged to fix up the city's Key Arena to make it NBA-ready should he get a club before the new arena is built. And he shouldn't have trouble finding the money. Hansen's fund, Valiant Capital, was an early investor in Facebook. The social media site is going public Friday on Nasdaq and Valiant's stake will be worth more than $1-billion.

Seattle may also be keen to show an interest in basketball because the NBA's Sacramento Kings could be looking for a new home soon. The team's owners, the Maloof family, have been squabbling with local officials over funding for a new arena and talks appear to have broken down.

All of that should help Quebec City, which is in the early stages of building a $400-million (Canadian) arena in an attempt to lure an NHL franchise. Quebec City hopes to have the building finished in time for the 2015-16 hockey season. Pierre Karl Péladeau, chief executive officer of media giant Quebecor, has also made it clear he is interested in acquiring an NHL club and Quebecor has reached a deal to manage the new arena.

Seattle's apparent preference for the NBA "is good news," said Mario Bédard, a Quebec City businessman who is leading a drive to sell seat licences for an eventual arena and NHL team. But Bédard cautioned that Seattle will still be eager to attract an NHL team once the new arena opens. "For any owner the objective is to have the most activities in the building," he said.

The NHL declined comment on the Seattle arena plans.

Seattle's push for an NBA team won't be good news for any hopes Vancouver has of winning back a basketball team. There had been speculation that if the Kings left Sacramento, the club could head to Vancouver. The city was home to the Grizzlies from 1995 through 2001, before that team moved to Memphis. But Vancouver Canucks and Rogers Arena owner Francesco Aquilini told the Vancouver Province recently that he is not pursuing an NBA club. "I can tell you we don't have any plans to bring an NBA team to Vancouver," he told the newspaper.

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About the Author
European Correspondent

Paul Waldie has been an award-winning journalist with The Globe and Mail for more than 10 years. He has won three National Newspaper Awards for business coverage and been nominated for a Michener Award for meritorious public service journalism. He has also won a Sports Media Canada award for sports writing and authored a best-selling biography of the McCain family. More

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