September 12, 2012

Seattle financier has arena deal, will try to buy NBA team

With the Sacramento Kings' future uncertain, Seattle is about to "go shopping" for an NBA team.

With the Sacramento Kings' future uncertain, Seattle is about to "go shopping" for an NBA team.

Seattle officials Tuesday unveiled a tentative agreement with Chris Hansen, the hedge fund manager who wants to build a $490 million basketball and hockey arena.

Hansen's interest in bringing the NBA back to Seattle surfaced in February. The tentative agreement, which is expected to be approved by the City Council later this month, would give Hansen what he needs "to go shopping" for a franchise, said council President Sally Clark.

Clark and other council members didn't identify specific teams at a news conference announcing the agreement.

"We certainly hear rumors about a couple of teams being on the market, this year or next," Clark said.

Hansen didn't appear at the news conference. Through a spokesman, he declined to mention any teams he might be targeting. Hansen issued a statement on his website praising Seattle officials and thanking the city's fans.

A spokesman for the Maloofs, who own the Kings, said the family wouldn't discuss the Seattle developments. "Their comment is the same as before – they're not going to weigh in on every rumor," said spokesman Eric Rose.

The Kings' future in Sacramento became shaky when the Maloofs scuttled a deal this spring to build a new arena at the downtown railyard.

The Maloofs insist they remain committed to Sacramento. But fans' anxiety was rekindled by a published report last month that the Maloofs were negotiating to move the team to a proposed arena in Virginia Beach, Va.

The frenzy seemed to die down after Virginia Beach's City Council gave arena developers a lukewarm reception. Also, the president of Comcast-Spectacor, the company proposing the arena, acknowledged that the company hadn't yet spoken to the Kings.

While the Maloofs have been hurt by financial problems the past few years, Hansen appears to be well funded. He has already spent $51 million buying land south of downtown for an arena, according to the Seattle Times. His partners in the project include Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer and two members of the Nordstrom retailing family.

The project is nowhere near breaking ground. Environmental reviews could take a year. And city officials said no construction can begin until Hansen has a team in hand.

Hansen's plan is to buy a basketball or hockey team for Seattle, with basketball his primary goal. He grew up rooting for the Seattle SuperSonics and has said he was crushed when the team moved to Oklahoma City in 2008.

The tentative agreement with the city calls for some public funding of the arena. The city would float at least $120 million in bonds, to be repaid with tax revenue generated by the arena.

King County is also expected to play a role in the financing if Seattle can get a National Hockey League franchise in addition to an NBA team.

In a key concession, Hansen agreed to personally guarantee the debt repayment. His pledge "was a critical deal for us," said City Councilman Mike O'Brien.

The city will examine Hansen's finances to make sure his net worth is at least $300 million.

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