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Friday, July 27, 2012
Support of Storm among arena issues

Associated Press

SEATTLE -- With the King County Council potentially taking a vote next Monday on a proposed new arena in Seattle, sticking points and possible concessions on traffic and the city's lease agreement with the Seattle Storm are building with the Seattle City Council.

Seattle City Councilman Mike O'Brien told The Associated Press on Friday that city officials continue to negotiate with investor Chris Hansen over changes to a proposed deal between the city and the private ownership group. Among those issues are dealing with traffic concerns in the city's industrial SoDo neighborhood, and the possibility of having Hansen's ownership group take over the city's current annual subsidy of the Seattle Storm.

The city's lease agreement with the Storm currently calls for a $300,000 payment each year from the city to the WNBA franchise as part of a revenue sharing agreement.

Asked about talks on the Storm subsidy, O'Brien said: "I'm not exactly sure how that's going to fall out. That remains an issue."

A spokesman for Hansen did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

"Councilmembers have expressed to me that there are further concessions they are asking and if (Hansen) does not agree to those concessions we may lose this deal," said Brian Robinson, head of Arena Solution, a group supporting efforts to bring a new arena to the Seattle region.

"My concern is the city will overreach in those concessions and they will lose this opportunity for the city of Seattle."

Traffic concerns in the SoDo neighborhood -- where Safeco Field, CenturyLink Field and the Port all share limited neighborhood space -- have been at the core of arguments against Hansen's plan to build the arena in that area. The Port of Seattle has been the loudest to voice dissent, saying that jobs would be lost, but hasn't provided the data to back those claims.

But the possible concessions regarding the Seattle Storm are a new wrinkle in the process. Storm President and CEO Karen Bryant said in an email that the city benefits from having the Storm at KeyArena, which is partly the reason for the current taxpayer subsidy of the team.

"The payment from the city is based on two factors. First, as the primary tenant of the building, the Storm's stable and consistent presence represents a key asset when selling naming rights to the building. The city's ability to sell naming rights is greatly fostered by having a primary tenant with an established brand and audience," Bryant said. "Secondly, naming rights would be sold with exclusivity, preventing the Storm from selling to anyone else in that category. This represents a revenue constraint for the Storm, so the payment is compensation for that exclusivity."

Hansen's proposal calls for a $490 million project including $290 million in private money that includes known investors Hansen, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, and Peter and Erik Nordstrom. The County Council is expected to vote on Hansen's proposal on Monday, potentially putting pressure on the City Council to move forward with deliberations on the project.

O'Brien said he felt concerns about traffic impact to the area were more critical to discussions.

"I'm pretty confident that we'll be able to work something out with the Storm, but I think the traffic issue is more challenging. In part because the traffic issues aren't specific to the arena ... and they're just really expensive issues."

Additional competition for Seattle came forward this week when Chicago businessman and AHL owner Don Levin told The Seattle Times of his discussions with the suburb of Bellevue about the possibility of building an arena there and bringing in an NHL team. During a series of radio interviews on Friday, Levin said his plan would be unveiled within the next month.

But Hansen's group is much further along in the process, although Robinson and his group are concerned the City Council will ask too much of Hansen on the traffic and Storm issues.

"In the event that Chris Hansen declines this deal, we're going to want to know from Council what the sticking points were and why this deal as it stood wasn't good enough for them," Robinson said. "If they are expecting Chris Hansen to deal with all the existing issues like the port and the Storm and KeyArena it will be up to the public to decide if that was a fair request of someone who is trying to do a really great thing for this city."