NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2016

Kudos to the Seattle City Council for voting down street vacation for Chris Hansen

Yes­ter­day, in a land­mark five to four vote, the Seat­tle City Coun­cil turned down a request by hedge fund man­ag­er Chris Hansen to vacate part of Occi­den­tal Avenue South in the city’s South Down­town (SoDo) neigh­bor­hood.

Hansen, who has been engaged in a mul­ti-year quest to return an NBA fran­chise to Seat­tle, had peti­tioned the city to trans­fer the afore­men­tioned pub­lic right of way to his are­na enter­prise he could uni­fy mul­ti­ple pieces of prop­er­ty he owns in order to pro­ceed with plans for con­struct­ing a new sports palace south of Safe­co Field.

But a major­i­ty of the Coun­cil (Sal­ly Bagshaw, Lisa Her­bold, Kshama Sawant, Deb­o­ra Juarez, and Lore­na González) wise­ly vot­ed against giv­ing Hansen the street.

Bagshaw and Her­bold had made their feel­ings on the mat­ter clear well in advance, but Sawant, Juarez, and González wait­ed until Mon­day to say how they would vote. González summed up her deci­sion by declar­ing, “I believe it’s in the city’s best inter­est to pro­tect the jobs we know we have rather than sell the street for hypo­thet­i­cal jobs that are con­tin­gent on a hypo­thet­i­cal team.”

The Coun­cil is to be com­mend­ed for turn­ing down Hansen’s peti­tion. It’s not easy to say no to a wealthy indi­vid­ual with a league of vocal allies, includ­ing influ­en­tial per­son­al­i­ties on sports talk radio. But it had to be done, for Chris Hansen’s agen­da is sim­ply not in the city or the region’s best inter­est.

Hansen, an out of state bil­lion­aire, sees SoDo as the per­fect place to build a new enter­tain­ment dis­trict anchored by a flashy sports palace. He’s con­vinced a lot of peo­ple des­per­ate to see the Son­ics return that his plans are well thought out and would­n’t adverse­ly impact the near­by sea­port or our mar­itime sec­tor.

But just about every­one who actu­al­ly has a stake in the mar­itime sec­tor has reject­ed Hansen’s vision for SoDo, includ­ing the Port and the ILWU.

We all know — or should know — that talk is cheap. Espe­cial­ly con­sid­er­ing his track record, Hansen’s promis­es and assur­ances aren’t worth much.

The truth is, Hansen does­n’t have an NBA team secured, which his mas­ter agree­ment with the city and the coun­ty says he needs in order to begin con­struc­tion on an are­na. Nor is the prospect of a team on the hori­zon. Top NBA brass recent­ly reit­er­at­ed they’re not ready to even talk about expan­sion yet.

Since Hansen has no team and is unlike­ly to have one before his orig­i­nal mas­ter agree­ment expires, it would have been fool­ish and pre­ma­ture to con­tin­ue down the path of clear­ing the decks for a third are­na smack in the mid­dle of SoDo.

Coun­cilmem­ber Deb­o­ra Juarez astute­ly observed before the vote that a bas­ket­ball are­na can poten­tial­ly be built in a num­ber of dif­fer­ent places, but a deep water port can­not. And she is absolute­ly cor­rect.

If the peo­ple and elect­ed lead­er­ship of Seat­tle desire to lure the NBA back here by part­ner­ing with a poten­tial own­er on an are­na project — a goal NPI is hap­py to sup­port — then the city needs to col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly and thought­ful­ly weigh all the options. That includes a poten­tial refur­bish­ment of KeyAre­na, where the Son­ics played for many, many years before Clay Ben­nett and his Raiders stole them away.

This orga­ni­za­tion would like to see the NBA award a new Son­ics fran­chise to Seat­tle, but not at the cost of jeop­ar­diz­ing our mar­itime and indus­tri­al sec­tors.

Our mar­itime jobs are some of the best-pay­ing jobs that we have. Our broth­ers and sis­ters in the ILWU and oth­er unions have been fight­ing to pro­tect these jobs for a long time — often with­out recog­ni­tion or appre­ci­a­tion. Our sea­port is a work­ing water­front; it is one of the engines of our region’s econ­o­my.

“The mar­itime com­pa­nies are real, con­tribut­ing to the econ­o­my, pay­ing wages,” Jon Tal­ton not­ed in a col­umn today. “The NBA and NHL teams are not real (yet). If these leagues want to be part of Seat­tle, they will make an effort. We don’t have to beg like some needy burg in nowhere.” He’s right.

It is impor­tant to remem­ber that before Seat­tle was a high-tech hub, it was a sea­port city, and it remains one today.

Seat­tle’s work­ing water­front and sta­tus as a gate­way to the Pacif­ic is so cen­tral to its iden­ti­ty, in fact, that the city’s Wikipedia page begins as fol­lows:

Seat­tle (i/siˈætəl/) is a West Coast sea­port city and the seat of King Coun­ty. With an esti­mat­ed 662,400 res­i­dents as of 2015,[2] Seat­tle is the largest city in both the state of Wash­ing­ton and the Pacif­ic North­west region of North Amer­i­ca.

There is no rea­son why Seat­tle can­not both pro­tect its mar­itime sec­tor and win a new NBA fran­chise to replace the team that now plays in Okla­homa City.

These have only been per­ceived as con­flict­ing goals in recent years because of Chris Hansen’s plans for SoDo. Regret­tably, the City of Seat­tle and King Coun­ty gave tac­it bless­ing to these plans when they signed the afore­men­tioned Mem­o­ran­dum of Under­stand­ing (MOU) with Hansen sev­er­al years ago. That was a bad move.

At the time, Hansen was maneu­ver­ing to acquire a team in the same fash­ion that the Raiders got a team for Okla­homa City: by steal­ing one away from anoth­er town. Hansen entered into an agree­ment to buy the Sacra­men­to Kings from their own­ers, but that agree­ment fell apart when the NBA refused to sign off on relo­ca­tion. The Kings stayed in Sacra­men­to and Hansen’s gam­bit failed, leav­ing him emp­ty-hand­ed.

It should be evi­dent now that Chris Hansen is the wrong per­son to lead the effort to bring the NBA back to Seat­tle. Time and again, he has exhib­it­ed poor judg­ment, from select­ing the wrong site for an are­na to attempt­ing to land an NBA fran­chise by poach­ing anoth­er city’s team instead of lob­by­ing the NBA for a new fran­chise to vio­lat­ing Cal­i­for­ni­a’s pub­lic dis­clo­sure laws when he did­n’t get his way.

(Not to men­tion that time he neglect­ed to pay the City of Seat­tle in a time­ly fash­ion for the work city staff were per­form­ing on his are­na project.)

This region needs a prospec­tive own­er who is com­mit­ted to the region’s vital­i­ty and well-being, includ­ing its mar­itime jobs. It needs some­body who can work effec­tive­ly with the NBA, its cur­rent thir­ty own­ers, and league Com­mis­sion­er Adam Sil­ver.

The ide­al part­ner would be an indi­vid­ual or group of indi­vid­u­als with means who are laser-focused on get­ting the NBA to com­mit to begin­ning the process of expan­sion, and open-mind­ed as to where the rein­car­nat­ed Son­ics should play. That’s the key. There is no are­na project with­out a team. And it must be a team that Seat­tle can legit­i­mate­ly call its own — not a team spir­it­ed away from some­where else.

Again, it would be wrong to rob anoth­er city of its fran­chise. We should not want any oth­er com­mu­ni­ty of fans to go through what we went through in 2008.

It tru­ly sad­dened me back in 2013 to see ardent Son­ics fans root­ing for Chris Hansen to suc­ceed in uproot­ing the Kings from Sacra­men­to and bring­ing them here. That would not have been the return of the Son­ics; it would have been the theft of the Kings. How can any Son­ics fan com­plain about what hap­pened here in 2008, and then turn around and excuse Hansen’s actions?

In addi­tion to find­ing a new part­ner and let­ting the MOU with Hansen’s enter­prise expire, we need to seri­ous­ly study the fea­si­bil­i­ty of refur­bish­ing KeyAre­na.

I would be very hap­py to see the Son­ics resume play there. It would com­plete the feel­ing of a prop­er home­com­ing. Neigh­bor­hood busi­ness­es would sure­ly be hap­py to see the Son­ics back. KeyAre­na, remem­ber, used to be the Son­ics’ house. It was their home court, which they shared with the Storm, Seat­tle’s WNBA fran­chise, and the Thun­der­birds, who now play in Kent at the ShoWare Cen­ter.

I can appre­ci­ate that for those who jumped onto Chris Hansen’s band­wag­on, yes­ter­day’s vote by the Seat­tle City Coun­cil comes as a dis­ap­point­ment.

But those folks real­ly, real­ly need to look at the big pic­ture. Approval of the street vaca­tion would have been a boon to Hansen, cer­tain­ly, but not nec­es­sar­i­ly to the city’s prospects of scor­ing a team to replace the Son­ics of old.

When it comes to expansion/relocation, the league’s exec­u­tives and own­ers are in the dri­ver’s seat. They call the shots. Not the Seat­tle City Coun­cil or the May­or of Seat­tle. Not the King Coun­ty Coun­cil or the King Coun­ty Exec­u­tive. If the NBA does­n’t want to work with Hansen, it does­n’t have to. It can just blow him off, which is essen­tial­ly what it has been doing ever since it nixed his bid to buy the Kings.

We can’t get the Son­ics back unless the NBA says yes to giv­ing us a fran­chise. If the NBA does­n’t want to col­lab­o­rate with Hansen (and they’ve sig­naled repeat­ed­ly that they don’t), then Hansen is actu­al­ly an imped­i­ment to the Son­ics’ return.

The soon­er Chris Hansen is out of the pic­ture, the soon­er we can choose a new part­ner to lead the effort to secure an NBA fran­chise for our region.

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3 Comments

  1. I think you raise some valid points, but let’s remem­ber that the Kings are not born in Sacra­men­to. Long ago, they were the Kansas City Kings and before that, the Cincin­nati Roy­als. Hansen grew up in the Seat­tle area and although like any poten­tial own­er, he wants to make mon­ey, how­ev­er, no pro­fes­sion­al sports own­er that I’m aware of, has offered to pay into the build­ing of the facil­li­ties.

    # by Mike Barer :: May 3rd, 2016 at 9:02 PM
  2. I’m at a loss to under­stand your need to per­son­al­ly trash Chris Hansen. He con­ced­ed vir­tu­al­ly every request to the city, and what­ev­er you think of the proposal,he a) dealt with the city in good faith, b) is the only seri­ous investor who has emerged.

    If you believe Juarez, this was a land use deci­sion, and the city is enti­tled to make a busi­ness deci­sion. Hansen lost, fair and square. But this knife-twist­ing is bizarre.

    # by Ian McDonald :: May 4th, 2016 at 7:35 AM
  3. I think Ian rais­es a good point. No one else has stepped for­ward except the Han­son.
    The idea of bring­ing the NBA back to Seat­tle seemed hope­less until Han­son stepped for­ward. In addi­tion, the link of a down­town are­na to jobs on the Water­front seems rather ambigu­ous, at least to me. Those build­ings will be torn down, it’s just a mat­ter of when if there isn’t a bas­ket­ball are­na, it will be a shop­ping cen­ter or a hotel.
    NBA games are almost always at night so it would raise less hav­oc than Mariner or Sea­hawks games.

    # by Mike Barer :: May 4th, 2016 at 11:11 PM