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5 Things City Council Candidates Should Know About the SoDo Arena

The 2019 Seattle City Council races are heating up, and we’ve been hearing a lot of questions at community forums about where the SoDo Arena project stands. So we put together this one-pager to inform candidates and the community about the status of the project and how the new Council can help put Seattle in the best possible position to bring back our Sonics.

Check it out!

Download the one-pager:

Let’s Put Seattle in the Best Possible Position to Attract an NBA Team

On Wednesday, the Sonics Arena Investment Team sent a letter to Mayor Durkan and the Seattle City Council, urging them to approve a conditional vacation of a one-block section of Occidental Avenue South in SoDo. Approval of this application means we’re one step closer to a shovel-ready arena project and putting Seattle in the best possible position to attract an NBA team.

Here’s the letter:

Mayor Durkan and City Council members:

In early 2017, we submitted a revised application for a conditional vacation of a one-block section of Occidental Avenue South in SoDo. The intent of this application is to make possible a shovel-ready arena project to put Seattle in the best possible position to attract an NBA team. In April 2017, the Seattle Design Commission approved the urban design and public benefit of the proposed arena and recommended the conditional vacation be approved by the City Council.

When our original street vacation application was denied in 2016, we went back to the drawing board to address the concerns we heard from the Council. Our new proposal addresses those concerns with several additional important changes and improvements, including;

  • Zero Risk: Approving the conditional vacation will not expose the city to any risk or cost because the arena will not be built, and the street will not be vacated, until and unless a team has been secured. Simply stated, no team means no street vacation, which means no risk to the city.
  • Private Financing: Our proposal is now 100% privately funded and requires no public financing or subsidies. Also, if constructed, the SoDo Arena would pay many millions of dollars annually in property and other taxes. This incremental tax revenue would be unencumbered, so that the City of Seattle will have full discretion on the allocation of its tax receipts.
  • Improved Freight Mobility: This new proposal includes an additional $1.3 million for SDOT Freight Master Plan projects. Importantly, since the Council considered our original proposal, the Lander Overpass project has been approved and is now underway. This new overpass will not only improve freight mobility through SoDo, but it also dead-ends Occidental just south of the proposed arena site.
  • Community Benefit Agreement: We have committed to an expanded Community Benefit Agreement designed to foster equity, social justice, and provide meaningful benefits to local communities. The CBA includes economic development, targeted local hiring and contracting, family wage employment opportunities, job training and apprenticeships, partnerships with organizations that serve youth and undeserved communities, and a strong mechanism for ongoing dialog and partnerships.
  • Joint Scheduling Conditions: Scheduling conditions that will minimize the potential for multiple events on the same day and ensure a coordinated approach to traffic and other transportation issues in the Stadium District remain an important part of the new street vacation petition. With only one team (NBA) playing at the SoDo arena, scheduling is relatively benign and is easily managed in other professional sports’ cities.

According to a recent ESPN article about the possibility of an NBA return to Seattle, “… the situation could even require Seattle to have a second new arena with the NBA as the main tenant if the city wants to outbid other markets to attract a team, multiple ownership groups told ESPN.”

We believe providing an alternative arena option in SoDo creates an insurance policy for the city, particularly if a future NBA ownership group is unable to strike a competitive deal at Seattle Center. Having both Seattle Center and SoDo as viable options for potential NBA team owners would send a powerful message to the NBA, that not only is Seattle the best available market, but we also understand what an NBA team requires to be successful.

We look forward to working with you and we remain fully committed to doing everything possible to bring the Sonics back to Seattle.

– Chris Hansen, Wally Walker, Erik Nordstrom, Pete Nordstrom, Russell Wilson

View the letter:

ESPN: What’s the future of the NBA in Seattle?

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst recently penned an article overviewing Seattle’s work to attract an NBA team. Several excerpts are presented below:

“…the complexities of the so-called New Arena at Seattle Center, the building’s working title, may make it challenging for Seattle to compete for a team if and when the time comes. The situation could even require Seattle to have a second new arena with the NBA team as the main tenant if the city wants to outbid other markets to attract a team, multiple ownership sources told ESPN.”

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“With others in line to get lion’s share of profits, an NBA team would be arriving last to the party. That could dim the NBA’s desire to move into the market when more lucrative options may be available elsewhere, league sources said. In essence, it’s possible Seattle might finally have an arena — but the wrong arena for the NBA.”

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“NBA teams in deep-pocket markets are looking to control their own buildings to capture new revenue. The Warriors’ privately-financed new arena set to open next year in San Francisco is a game-changer: It will open a fountain of new revenue that will make other big markets jealous. Clippers owner Steve Ballmer is in the process of trying to build his own arena in large part because he earns tens of millions less per season than the Lakers in the same building.”

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“This changing landscape is why investor Chris Hansen, who tried to buy and relocate the Kings to Seattle in 2013, is still planning to construct his own privately-financed arena in the SoDo district of Seattle near the baseball and football stadiums.”

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“His arena wouldn’t have the space and traffic limitations at KeyArena and could make an NBA team the primary tenant and therefore be more attractive…[and] would be a strong alternate option…”

Same Street, Better Benefits

Proposed location of SoDo Arena and requested street vacation in Seattle’s Stadium District.

Just over a year ago we submitted a revised application for a conditional street vacation of a one block section of Occidental Avenue South in SoDo, where we hope to build a state of the art arena for the Sonics.

A lot has happened since then, so we wanted to update everyone on where things stand.

As you all know, the Oak View Group has an agreement with the City of Seattle to renovate KeyArena as a new home for the NHL, a venue for Live Nation promoted concerts, the Seattle Storm, and possibly even an NBA team. We’re excited for local fans and wish Oak View Group and city leaders the very best.

But our goal to bring the Sonics back to Seattle doesn’t end there.

We believe having two viable arena options would put Seattle in the best possible position to attract an NBA team. And we believe having competitive proposals effectively creates an insurance policy for the City. If, for example, some future NBA ownership group is unable to make KeyArena pencil out, or if renovating KeyArena to meet NBA standards proves difficult, Seattle will still have a path to attract a team if one becomes available.

So, we’re continuing our work to have an arena project that is shovel-ready, which is an important factor for the NBA to consider Seattle for league expansion or team relocation.

The last piece required for our project to be shovel-ready is the approval by the Seattle City Council of our revised application to vacate a one block section of Occidental Avenue South in Seattle’s zoned Stadium District.

If the Conditional Street Vacation is approved by Seattle City Council, this one-block section of Occidental Ave S. would be purchased from the City at fair market value and vacated for Arena construction if an NBA team is acquired.

Our proposal fell short of approval in 2016 when the City Council last considered our application. Since then we’ve listened to the concerns of the council members and the community and updated our proposal with several key differences. Those changes include:

  • PRIVATE FINANCING – The arena is now 100% privately funded and requires no public financing or subsidies. Plus, the arena would pay many millions in property and other taxes which would benefit of the City and Seattle Public Schools.
  • ZERO RISK – Approving the conditional vacation will not expose the city to any risk or cost because the arena would not be built, and the street would not be vacated, until and unless a team has been secured. Simply stated, no team means no street vacation, which means no risk to the city.
  • IMPROVED FREIGHT MOBILITY – We agreed to contribute an additional $1.3 million to implement SDOT 2016 Freight Master Plan projects, including the Lander Overpass that was approved since the council last considered the vacation. Importantly, the new overpass will not only help freight mobility but also dead-end Occidental just south of the proposed arena, making the one block section of Occidental even less useful for the SoDo transportation network.
  • PUBLIC BENEFITS – Our updated public benefit package totals almost $27 million. Including the cost of purchasing the one block stretch of Occidental plus SEPA mitigation, more than $60 million will be spent in exchange for a small and lightly trafficked portion of a non-arterial street.
  • COMMUNITY BENEFIT AGREEMENT – We have committed to an expanded Community Benefit Agreement (CBA) to foster equity and social justice and provide meaningful benefits to the local communities. The CBA includes economic development, targeted local hiring and contracting, family wage employment opportunities, job training and apprenticeships, and a strong mechanism for ongoing dialogue and partnership. The agreement also establishes partnerships with organizations that serve youth and underserved communities, especially in areas with health and education disparities, and includes a strong commitment to foster the establishment and growth of Women and Minority owned businesses. 
  • JOINT SCHEDULING CONDITIONS – Scheduling conditions suggested by the City Council remain an important part of the street vacation petition. Those conditions will ensure a coordinated approach to traffic and transportation issue in the Stadium District and minimize the potential for multiple events on the same day.

On April 6, 2017, the Seattle Design Commission approved the urban design and public benefit of the proposed SoDo Arena and recommended the conditional street vacation be approved by the Seattle City Council.

Occidental Avenue South – Existing conditions

We look forward to making our case to the City Council, and we remain committed to doing everything possible to bring back the Sonics and build an asset that will benefit the region for many years to come.

By approving the conditional street vacation for the SoDo Arena, the City Council can send a strong and clear message to the NBA that our city is ready – and eager – for the return of the Sonics to Seattle.

Happy Holidays – 2018 and Beyond

As we look forward to taking some time off this holiday season, we want to take a moment to say thanks to all of you who have worked so hard to help return the NBA to Seattle.

We’re excited by the news that the NHL will be accepting an application for a Seattle team to play at KeyArena, and we wish Oak View Group and city leaders the very best in making that dream a reality for fans.

And in the new year, we look forward to working with Mayor Durkan and the City Council to advance our street vacation petition. We still believe our proposal to build a 100% privately financed arena in Seattle’s stadium district is the best path to bringing back the Sonics. Having a shovel-ready arena project in SoDo will only help Seattle put its best foot forward in attracting the NBA back to our city.

Our goal has always been and will always be the same…to see the Sonics playing again in Seattle. We will continue to do everything we can to help make that happen.

Thank you again from our entire team. We wish you happy holidays and a happy new year!

— Chris, Wally, Erik, Pete, and Russell

Sonics Arena Team on the Seattle City Council’s approval of the Oak View Group MOU

More than six years ago, we began our effort to bring the Sonics back to Seattle. That remains our goal today.

While we respect the City Council’s decision to approve the Oak View Group MOU we continue to believe our plan to build a 100% privately funded arena in SoDo represents the best chance to bring the NBA back to Seattle.

Our team of local investors first came together because there was no effort underway to bring the NBA back to Seattle. We purchased land in Seattle’s Stadium District, paid for a lengthy environmental review, traffic and parking studies and economic impact studies. We worked with the Seattle Arena Review Panel, King County Expert Review Panel, the City and County Councils through numerous hearings, the Seattle Downtown Design Review process and Seattle Design Review Commission. In short, we did everything asked of us by Seattle officials. We believe this lengthy review, along with the input we heard from the broader community, resulted in a better proposal for everyone.

Today we remain steadfast in our goal to have the NBA once again playing in Seattle, so we will keep the land we own in Seattle’s Stadium District until that commitment has been made.

Having two viable arena options puts Seattle in the best position to attract an NBA team. If some future NBA ownership group is unable to reach a competitive deal at Seattle Center, having an alternative is vital for the City and Sonics fans.

We ask the City Council to consider our revised application for a conditional vacation of a one-block section of Occidental Avenue South. We will not break ground on an arena unless a team is secured, so granting the conditional vacation poses no risk to the City and it doesn’t impede Oak View Group’s arena plans.

And if Seattle Center does indeed end up once again being the home for the Sonics, we’ll be right there with you to cheer them on.

— Chris Hansen, Wally Walker, Erik Nordstrom, Pete Nordstrom, Russell Wilson

SoDo Arena Project Updates

On April 6, the Seattle Design Commission approved the urban design and public benefit of the proposed SoDo Arena and recommended the conditional street vacation of a one block segment of Occidental Avenue South be approved by the Seattle City Council.

This video is a condensed version of our presentation to the Design Commission, highlighting how the new proposal addresses the concerns raised by the Seattle City Council, including additional public benefits, mobility improvements for the Seattle freight community, and importantly, the SoDo Arena project is now 100% privately funded.

The next step is for the Seattle City Council to vote on the street vacation. If approved, we stand ready to get to work bringing the Sonics back to Seattle!

To the Sonics Faithful

We’re excited to announce that we just submitted a new petition to the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) requesting the vacation of a portion of Occidental Avenue South to allow construction of the SoDo Arena.

If approved by the City Council, this conditional street vacation will finally put us in position to work with the NBA to acquire a team for Seattle.

This is the piece of Occidental Avenue S. we’re asking the city to vacate.

Since we last submitted a street vacation petition, we have reworked our proposal to address the concerns raised by Seattle City Council members.

This new petition incorporates all amendments to the previous petition considered by the City Council, and builds on it with several important differences:

  • The Arena Will Be 100% Privately Financed – The Arena requires no public financing – it will be 100% privately financed.
  • Traffic Improvements – We are contributing an additional $1.3 million to implement several SDOT projects in the 2016 Freight Master Plan – on top of the benefits recommended by SDOT and Seattle Design Commission.
  • No Team Means No Arena Means No Vacation – There will be no vacation unless and until an NBA team is acquired and the arena is under construction. If a team isn’t acquired and the arena project does not get built in this location, the street will not be vacated.
  • Joint Scheduling Agreement – An agreement has been made with the Seahawks, Mariners, and Sounders, ensuring no major event will occur at the arena at any time that overlaps with major events at Safeco Field or CenturyLink Field.

Also, since the City Council considered the previous street vacation petition last year the long-stalled Lander Overpass project is close to being fully funded, with the SoDo Arena making a contribution to that important freight mobility project.

In addition, the Community Benefit Agreement and Labor Peace Agreement remain in place.

Recent rendering of the arena — picture a sea of green and gold as tip-off approaches.

All told, the new benefit package totals almost $27 million, not including the mitigation that will be required by the Master Use Permit approval or the cost of purchasing the section of Occidental.

The years-long Environmental Impact Statement for the arena proved that this little-used section of Occidental will have minimal effect on the flow of traffic through the stadium district. Just like the vacation of Occidental that was approved for Safeco Field two blocks north of the Arena site, the public benefits of the new venue will far outweigh the minimal effect.

As we’ve said before, approving the street vacation will not interfere with the City’s RFP process for Key Arena. Any Key Arena renovation plan will take 5-7 years to complete. Our plan, on the other hand, can be ready to go quickly with the street vacation. This puts the city in the best position to take advantage of any franchise opportunities.

At the end of the day, our #1 goal is bringing the NBA back to Seattle, and we look forward to working with the Mayor and the City Council as they consider the revised petition.

Let’s Bring ‘Em Back!

— Chris Hansen, Wally Walker, Erik Nordstrom, Pete Nordstrom, Russell Wilson.

Sports City

2008 was a big year for me.

It was my first year as starting QB at NC State. My first trip to a bowl game. And the honor of being named first-team All-ACC. That year was also a big one for Seattle sports fans, but not for a good reason. It was the first year without NBA basketball in our city.

Growing up in Virginia, the Sonics were one of my favorite teams to follow. Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, Sam “Big Smooth” Perkins — on the basketball courts near my home, these were the players I often pretended to be.

The younger me could only dream of one day being a professional in any sport, let alone win a Super Bowl. Now I get a chance at fulfilling another dream. Being part of an NBA ownership group.

I have joined and partnered with the Sonics Arena Investment Group because I believe in the plan Chris Hansen, Wally Walker, and Erik and Pete Nordstrom have put together. And I believe building a privately funded, state-of-the-art arena alongside Seattle’s other great stadiums is the best shot for bringing the NBA back to the city I now call home.

Recently, our group sent a letter to the Seattle City Council outlining a new proposal to privately fund the arena. In the letter, we provide details about our commitment to improving freight mobility in the area, and emphasize that the street vacation wouldn’t go into effect until an NBA team is secured. We also make clear that by approving the conditional street vacation the Seattle City Council will not interfere with the RFP process proposed for Key Arena, but rather put Seattle in the best possible position to take advantage of franchise opportunities that could become available.

One thing not emphasized in the letter, however, is something I know the City Council shares my passion for: How the return of the NBA can benefit Seattle youth, particularly those in traditionally underserved communities.

Obviously, I’m a big believer in the power of sports to improve lives. Not only do they teach kids critical lessons like the importance of teamwork and commitment, they also provide much-needed structure and activity outside of school.

Sports — and sports idols — can also inspire kids. Like a lot of you, this is something I experienced first-hand when I was young. And it’s something I experience first-hand today, as my fellow Seahawks and I visit young people throughout Seattle communities.

For years, the Sonics were an inspiration for the kids of Seattle. Local heroes our youth could look up to. Even thousands of miles away, I looked up to Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, and Ray Allen — I can only imagine what it was like being able to watch them in your hometown.

Bringing the NBA back to Seattle will provide our youth with a new set of local heroes to look up to. Kids who love football have a pro team to follow. Same with baseball fans and soccer fans. Now it’s time to inspire the kids who love basketball.

Approving the conditional street vacation makes the Arena shovel-ready, and sends a loud message to the NBA that Seattle is ready and eager for teams. That we want our Sonics back to accompany the Storm. All we need is for the Seattle City Council to make this one last nod of approval.

I’m excited to be a part of the Arena Group, and I look forward to watching the Sonics play in my adopted hometown.

One lasting memory that I know correlates with every Seattle fan is when we won the Super Bowl and were able to bring home the Lombardi trophy, the millions of faces and hearts and souls that were, are and will be forever connected to our team is what can help to continue to bring a community together.

This is what our society and our generations to come all need because it brings all different races, socioeconomic statuses and demographics together under one roof. We do not want to just win on the court, but also in our beloved community.

— Russell Wilson

Moving Forward

​​Following the Seattle City Council’s vote last May to deny the vacation of a portion of Occidental Avenue South we reiterated our commitment to bringing the NBA back to Seattle. We said we would take time to step back, evaluate our options, better understand the Council’s concerns and find a path forward.

For the past five months, we’ve been doing just that. We have carefully considered the various concerns expressed by Council members and identified steps we could take to address those concerns. In a letter to the Mayor and King County Executive — both of whom share our goal of bringing the Sonics back to Seattle — we described the steps we are willing to take to move the Arena project forward.

First, we will direct contributions to a package of additional SODO traffic improvements, which will improve freight mobility through the area.

Second, we agreed to commit future payment of compensation for the vacated street to the city’s financing package for the Lander Street Overpass, thereby helping to close the funding gap for that important project.

Finally, we have agreed to revising the street vacation petition to eliminate public financing of the Arena. Terminating the MOU would allow the city and county to recoup the $200 million in debt capacity and free-up Arena tax-generated revenue streams.

To make this all possible we have asked for approval of a revised conditional street vacation, a waiver of the city’s admissions tax, which has been granted for the other sports venues in Seattle, and an adjustment of the city’s B&O tax for revenue generated out of town.

We are hopeful these additional steps will address the concerns of the Council so the Arena project can move forward – which remains the critical first step to bringing the NBA back to Seattle.

Go Sonics!

— Chris Hansen, Erik Nordstrom, Pete Nordstrom, Wally Walker

Statement from Chris Hansen on behalf of the Arena Investment Group

​​Today’s City Council vote was disappointing but we don’t believe it is the end of the road in our quest to bring the NBA back to Seattle. We know all the fans who have stood solidly by us these past years share our disappointment but it is important that we all stay focused on our shared goal.

We now need to take a little time to step back and evaluate our options, better understand the council’s concerns and find a path forward. We will keep you posted.

Investment Team Letter to City Council Urging for Street Vacation

​Yesterday Sonics Arena Investment Team members Erik Nordstrom, Wally Walker and Pete Nordstrom sent a letter to the Seattle City Council, urging the Council to approve the Occidental Avenue street vacation on May 2nd. Here is the letter: