SEATTLE — A group aiming to renovate KeyArena for NBA and NHL use says the project would take no more than “three or four years” to complete depending on the red tape involved.
Oak View Group CEO Tim Leiweke, in a visit Thursday with The Seattle Times editorial board, said the time frame for project completion is one of several “myths” being propagated locally that need dispelling.
Leiweke said he’s assuming the NHL likely would come to Seattle ahead of NBA and that his group’s KeyArena time frame is “perfect” given the league’s recent expansion process with the Las Vegas Golden Knights.
“We believe it’s going to take three or four years, preferably three,” Leiweke said. “We’re prepared to do it in three, but we understand that entitlement may take longer than a year.
“But we believe it’s three years,” he added. “We believe that there is no franchise today in the National Hockey League or in the National Basketball Association that is in danger of being lost as an opportunity over the next few years. And we believe that should (NHL commissioner) Gary Bettman make a decision to expand, that if you look at the last process they just went through, it was a three- to four-year process to get that building built and to get that (Las Vegas) team up and running this next season.”
Leiweke long served on the board of governors of both leagues as the former president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, owners of the NHL Toronto Maple Leafs and NBA Toronto Raptors. He also served as president and CEO of Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) — which also is expected to submit a KeyArena proposal. AEG is a minority owner of the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers and owns the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings.
Leiweke said he’s in constant contact with Bettman and NBA commissioner Adam Silver and has been assured there is no imminent expansion or team relocation on the horizon. He added he would never prod either league into putting a team in this city but plans to be ready should the opportunity surface.
That opportunity appears closer with the NHL, which will be at an uneven 31 teams next season after the recently awarded Las Vegas franchise begins play. The assumption has long been that the NHL is holding open an expansion spot for Seattle to balance its Western and Eastern conferences.
“So, the fact is, our timing is actually perfect,” Leiweke said. “Those that believe it’s going to take us seven years to build the arena, I think that’s incorrect and simply, once again, an assessment and a judgment that’s being made based on a personal agenda.”
A group headed by entrepreneur Chris Hansen, who is pitching an arena project in the Sodo District, has stated on its website the KeyArena renovation would take between five and seven years. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who recently joined Hansen’s group, repeated the five- to seven-year assertion in a Times op-editorial piece.
The City of Seattle has said the KeyArena process could take up to five years but not longer. Proposals from interested bid groups are expected by April 12, with transportation and parking mitigation plans a required component of any offer.
Leiweke said his group is working on a comprehensive traffic proposal — and hinted the Monorail might factor in — but for competitive reasons does not want to go into detail until all offers are in.
Leiweke said his group would remodel, operate and maintain KeyArena without public money or subsidies. It also plans to do so “on spec” as a music and concert venue before an anchor tenant team becomes available.
Given that expense, he said, OVG does not support the idea of the city going with separate arenas in Sodo and at the Seattle Center site.
“Trying to build a second arena in a marketplace where you’re going to compete for the music and fight over that is probably not the best use of assets,” Leiweke said. “I would hope that’s not what happens. But at the end of the day, we are focused on our project.”
Leiweke added that he wants to avoid commenting on Hansen’s proposal as much as possible. But when asked whether he has any hesitation dealing with the city after a council vote last May thwarted Hansen’s project, Leiweke said there are lingering false myths about the Sodo effort.
“I know where (NBA commissioner) Adam Silver is on Seattle,” Leiweke said. “I was on the (NBA) board of governors for the Sacramento debacle. You (were) not getting an NBA team. So, that’s a myth. And I’m amazed it’s lasted this long, but we knew that (expansion) wasn’t going to happen. And it certainly is not going to happen by November 2017.”
After the NBA blocked Hansen’s efforts to relocate the Kings to Seattle in 2013, it came out that Hansen had secretly funneled $100,000 to a signature-collecting group that did not want the team to remain in Sacramento. Hansen was fined $50,000 for violations of California election law by not disclosing the contribution.
Hansen’s previous five-year public-funding deal with the City of Seattle and King County expires Dec. 3 and requires an NBA team to take effect. But Silver told The Seattle Times last April — fewer than two weeks before the council’s vote — that expansion wasn’t imminent and had previously suggested to Mayor Ed Murray that Hansen likely would not get a shot at an NBA team before his deal ran out.
Hansen has since shifted to all-private funding and has discussed the possibility of seeking an NHL team ahead of an NBA franchise.
“I think that some people think it’s all political,” Leiweke said of the city’s rejection of Hansen. “I don’t. I think that there are certain leaders in this community that finally took a step back and listened to Adam Silver when he said ‘There’s no expansion coming, and we’re not giving a team to Seattle right now because there’s no team moving.’ I don’t think that’s politics. I think that’s the reality of understanding the truth. And I personally believe you’ve been misled.”
Leiweke reiterated several times that working with the commissioners of both leagues is critical. And he doesn’t think Hansen’s secret funding of the Sacramento group against the NBA’s stated interests helped this city’s cause.
“I don’t think that was a good day for Seattle,” Leiweke said. “And I’m speaking just as a (Toronto Raptors) member of the board of governors at the time and watching that. … You don’t threaten (then-NBA commissioner) David Stern. And I’ll leave it at that.”
Leiweke won’t guarantee franchises from either sport for this city because he doesn’t want to be perceived as strong-arming leagues. But he added that the financial returns to his group would be limited without such teams, and he fully intends to bring them here.
To do that, he plans to be a minority part-owner of any franchise that comes and is prepared to offer a “50-50-split” of arena revenues to franchise owners. He said he’s already engaged in “good conversations” with multiple prospective team ownership groups — including those with strong local representation — open to the sharing arrangement.