Hearing set for lawsuit opposing Seattle group's plans for Kings arena

Published: Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Wednesday, Sep. 18, 2013 - 12:19 pm

A lawsuit that could derail a Seattle group's plans to build an arena and buy the Sacramento Kings has been set for a Feb. 22 hearing in King County Superior Court.

The suit, brought by a Seattle longshoreman's union, contends the arena financing agreement between local government officials and a potential team ownership group violates state environmental law.

Longshoremen and other workers brought the suit saying they fear they could lose thousands of maritime and industrial jobs if a basketball arena and entertainment district were built in the port area south of downtown Seattle.

Attorney Peter Goldman, representing the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 19, said the city of Seattle and King County unlawfully committed to a plan to build the arena at that site prior to studying alternative sites. The suit seeks to nullify the arena financing "memorandum of understanding" between city, county and the private group, led by hedge fund manager Chris Hansen.

The union's lawyer contends the arena proponents are giving the NBA the impression the project is further along than it is.

"Maybe he (Hansen) has an arena locked in more than Sacramento does, but he doesn't have an arena locked in here," Goldman said. "This lawsuit is not the silver bullet that ends the show. It is an important step to say there is no (legal) agreement, that the cart was put before the horses."

But Hansen's lawyer John McCullough, in a court filing two days after announcing the purchase of the Kings, downplayed the significance of the memorandum of understanding reached with city and county officials last fall.

The document "does not approve development of an arena," McCullough wrote. "(It) simply describes the process by which the arena proposal will be reviewed and how it will be financed if approved."

McCullough added that the longshoremen have no business filing an environmental case because their complaints are "a litany of purely economic concerns" that have nothing to do with environmental law.

The court hearing comes at a critical juncture for Seattle's effort to persuade NBA officials the city is basketball ready. Seattle lost the SuperSonics in 2008 because its arena was antiquated.

A win in court Feb. 22 for the Hansen group would clear at least one legal cloud for a Seattle arena and pave the way for a final environmental review.

The Hansen-led Seattle business group reached an agreement three weeks ago with the majority owners of the Kings to buy the team and move it to Seattle. The team would play temporarily in old KeyArena while a modern facility is built. The Seattle group has purchased land south of downtown for an arena.

The sale of the team, however, requires approval of the NBA board of governors, who next meet in April, and NBA officials have made it clear Seattle must have a solid arena plan in place.

Sacramento officials, meanwhile, are attempting to put together an alternative ownership group – and their own arena financing plan – in hopes of persuading the NBA to reject the Seattle deal and keep the team here.

As of Friday, that Sacramento group has not surfaced to state its intentions or offer a plan. However, sources close to the Sacramento effort said Southern California billionaire Ron Burkle and Bay Area entrepreneur Mark Mastrov are actively assembling an ownership group and formulating an arena plan.

Burkle previously attempted to buy the Kings, but was rebuffed by the Maloof family, the current team majority partners.

Meanwhile in Sacramento, fan groups are working to sell out tonight's home game in hopes of sending a message to the NBA that Sacramento supports the Kings.

Part of the fan effort was a fundraising drive that took in enough donations to buy 626 tickets for local kids and their families.

"The reaction was awesome, especially when the kids heard what a big deal the game is going to be," said one of the donation drive's organizers, Kevin Fippin.

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