SEATTLE (Reuters) - A wealthy San Francisco investor has proposed building a new sports arena in Seattle and buying a pro basketball franchise to play there under a $700 million private-public financing deal with local authorities, municipal officials said on Thursday.
But Seattle and King County officials stressed that Christopher Hansen, 44, a hedge-fund manager, would not go forward with the project unless and until he has a National Basketball Association (NBA) team committed to lease the arena.
Mayor Mike McGinn and County Executive Dow Constantine said local authorities would not put up any money for the arena until Hansen's share of the financing, the bulk of proposed project, was in place.
But the plan, unveiled at a news conference by McGinn and Constantine without Hansen present, stoked speculation that has been building in recent weeks about the possibility of regaining an NBA club, breathing new life into the city's sports scene.
The city has been without an NBA team since the Seattle SuperSonics franchise left the Pacific Northwest and moved to Oklahoma City in 2009, though the city has retained the SuperSonics name for itself.
Heightening the buzz surrounding a possible return of pro basketball to Seattle has been the approach of a March 1 deadline for the California city of Sacramento to devise a viable proposal for a new arena there to keep the NBA Kings from moving elsewhere.
NBA officials declined to comment. But Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, owner of the NBA's Portland, Oregon, franchise and the Seattle Seahawks of the National Football League, said it was "exciting to think about the NBA coming back to Seattle and renewing the rivalry (with) the Portland Trail Blazers."
NHL EYEING SEATTLE
Hansen's proposal calls for raising $290 million in private investments to build the arena as a new venue for NBA and National Hockey League (NHL) teams on a 3-acre parcel of land he has already purchased in Seattle's SoDo district south of downtown.
Hansen and his group would also bear the costs, estimated by local officials at roughly $200 million, associated with acquiring an NBA club, but would seek a partner to recruit a new NHL team to the facility, McGinn and Constantine said.
The NHL has been eyeing Seattle as a possible candidate for expansion or relocation of the Phoenix Coyotes.
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said in a statement that the Seattle arena proposal "creates the possibility of future in interest by the NHL in that marketplace," despite the league's general reluctance to move its franchises.
Another $200 million in arena development and construction costs would be financed from a combination of tax revenues generated by the facility and property and rental income paid by the teams, McGinn and Constantine said.
The proposal was submitted for review by a 10-member advisory panel appointed by the mayor and county executive.
Growing up on Seattle, where he held jobs as a newspaper delivery boy and dishwasher, Hansen went on to earn an MBA and worked for seven years as a senior analyst and partner in the San Francisco office of New York-based Blue Ridge Capital.
He left there in 2008 to launch his own company, Valiant Capital, a partnership that claims to manage $3 billion in public and private investments.
According to biographical information released at the news conference, Hansen was born in San Francisco but moved with his mother in 1973 to the Seattle area, where he grew up as a fan of the SuperSonics and graduated from high school.
He now resides in San Francisco with his wife and two children, but his parents still live in Seattle.
In a Seattle Times interview published on Thursday, Hansen recalled sobbing as a child when the SuperSonics lost in the NBA Finals in 1978 and his elation at the team's championship victory the following year. He said he has dreamed of owning an NBA team since college.