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David Sabey: Owner of Tukwila Property; Potential NBA/NHL Owner?

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Local businessman David Sabey has a history of involvement in Seattle sports franchises. What level of involvement is he interested in now?

Edited by Tiffany Villigan

Tukwila property
Tukwila property
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When NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman recently revealed that the city of Tukwila is a possible location for an NBA/NHL arena, Geoff Baker followed up with some details he had been tracking behind the scenes for a while. One of those details was the current owner of the property in Tukwila. His name is David Sabey.

As Baker also revealed, Sabey is a former minority owner of the Seattle Supersonics, which made me wonder: how else does this man tie in to our local community and how might he be involved moving forward?

It's time to find out a little bit more about David Sabey.

THE TUKWILITE HUSKY

According to a 2012 article in Seattle Business Magazine, Sabey is a lifelong Tukwilite and a former offensive lineman for the Washington Huskies.

Sabey's is the story of a man who never sees a glass half empty. He was born and raised in Tukwila and, at 65, he still has the broad shoulders he developed as a reserve lineman for the University of Washington football team. "You could tell the linemen by how dirty their uniforms were and by the chips on their helmets," Sabey recalls fondly. He says his task as a lineman was to clear the way so other players could find opportunities to run the ball. That's the role he sees for himself as an owner and manager: providing the capital and the tools for others to exploit business.

Clearing the way so other players could find opportunities to run the ball? Is that the role he's playing as the owner of potential arena land now?

HOW HE MADE HIS FORTUNE

The SBM article goes into some detail about this. In short, he made his fortune in real estate and technology. He actually combined the two endeavors to the extent that his holdings of massive technology data centers is one of the largest in the world. His data centers service tiny technology companies, such as Amazon, Google, and Microsoft. In fact, sources tell Sonics Rising that its own boss man, Kevin Nesgoda, works at one of those centers.

Sabey Data Centers, a Sabey affiliate, has found itself well positioned in that sweet spot. It manages or has under development more than 3 million square feet of building space specifically built to house data centers. Those centers represent 65 percent of the value of a Sabey enterprise currently worth more than $600 million. Last June, Sabey paid $120 million for a windowless Verizon building in lower Manhattan; the site will likely prove to be the city's largest special purpose data center.

He is also involved in philanthropy. For example, he founded the Seattle Science Foundation.

Mr. Sabey is also founder of the Seattle Science Foundation which was established to foster the collaboration of medical scientists, practitioners, and engineers through high bandwidth transmissions while sharing some of the world's most sophisticated skill sets. Through the Foundation and his work with some of medical technology's most creative and productive thought leaders, Dave is helping to advance a global healthcare network with Seattle as a central node.

PROPONENT FOR SOUTH SEATTLE

As you will see in this video, Sabey is a champion of the South Seattle area. He speaks from the 58-second mark to the 90-second mark.

From my perspective, the south side location for any business has several facets to it. As you approach this major population area of the Pacific Northwest, you're right in the center of it. If you think about flying airplanes, we're sitting right next to the airport. If you think about train transportation to the port, we are sitting in a great place to either have a local business or to have an international business or, even better, to have both.

POSSIBLE INTEREST IN AN NHL FRANCHISE?

The effort to bring the NHL to Seattle is certainly not new. According to SeattleHockey.net, there were attempts made as early as the 1960s. There was a time in the early '90s, in fact, when the outlook seemed very positive. It seemed a question more of when than if. Though the same website paints a picture of how Supersonics owner Barry Ackerley played a key role in torpedoing that effort, the Seattle Times had published an article that detailed the possibility and Sabey was mentioned.

Apparently SuperSonics ownner [sic] Barry Ackerley and David Sabey, who bid for the Mariners, are not interested.

Sabey spokeswoman Gretchen Hannah said her boss might be interested in five or 10 years. "But right now, Mr. Sabey has so many things going on,'' she said. "People do think of him because of his interest in promoting sports in Seattle, but he has no interest in an NHL franchise right now.''

So Sabey wasn't in position for that run at the league, but he may have been interested another time?

ATTEMPT TO SAVE THE SUPERSONICS

Sabey was a minority owner as part of the Howard Schultz group. It is unclear exactly how much of it he owned or what part he might have played in the decision to sell to Clay Bennett. It is very clear, however, that Sabey made an attempt in 2007 to buy the team back from Bennett and keep them in the Seattle area. The Tacoma News-Tribune reported on that effort.

Seattle SuperSonics chairman Clay Bennett has been offered the opportunity to sell the team to local real estate developer David Sabey, according to three sources, but for now has rejected the proposal. Also, Seattle Storm chief operating officer Karen Bryant three months ago broached the topic of purchasing the WNBA team from Bennett, according to sources, but was rebuffed because Bennett thinks he has more leverage with both entities together.

Sabey recently purchased 55 acres of land at the south end of Boeing Field for $91 million that, sources say, he wants to use as a site for a new arena.

According to sources, Sabey had a two-hour meeting with Bennett around April 18, at which he broached the topic of offering the 55 acres for an ownership stake in the team. When Bennett rejected that offer, Sabey countered with buying the team outright, which so far has not been accepted. It is unclear how much Sabey offered for the team.

Sabey, sources say, would like to use a new arena as the centerpiece in developing the 55-acre site. The site in Renton that Bennett's group had chosen for an arena is 21 acres, meaning Sabey potentially would have another 34 acres on which to build hotels, restaurants and other retail shops.

That's right. Not only did Sabey try to save the Supersonics, but he bought the property in Tukwila for precisely that purpose.

ATTEMPT TO LURE THE NHL WITH ... BENNETT?

The same TNT article revealed that Bennett was trying to lure an NHL franchise to Seattle and Sabey was involved with that effort.

[Sabey] once attempted to purchase the Seattle Mariners but was rebuffed and also, sources say, was involved with Bennett's attempt to bring a hockey team to Seattle.

Wait. What? Raise your hand if you remembered that attempt before reading that. But the Seattle Times reported on it in February of 2007:

Luring an NHL franchise to the Seattle area "is a key component" in Sonics Owner Clay Bennett's proposed arena in Renton, according to Percy Allen of the SEATTLE TIMES. Bennett: "We are beginning to work on an analysis for the NHL in the market, understanding first and foremost, is the product viable and then at the same time model the NHL in the building relative to revenue sharing, expense sharing with an NBA team." The Sonics have hired an independent research firm "to determine if the Puget Sound market could support" an NHL team. Bennett said that he "hasn't been in contact with either" the Penguins or Predators "but insinuated he's had recent talks with the NHL"

Of course, we now know that Bennett was never really trying to get an arena built in Seattle because he was "a man possessed" to move the team to Oklahoma City. Therefore, we know that he never really wanted to bring an NHL team here either. He was likely just manipulating Sabey the way he manipulated everyone else in town.

Actually, people in the community saw through that red herring at the time, particularly Blaine Newnham, of the Seattle Times, who thought it to be just another leverage point against KeyArena.

THE BIG QUESTION

We know that Sabey was an owner of the Supersonics before. Would he want to be again? In spite of Bennett's insincerity, we know that the Tukwilite Husky made an attempt with him to bring an NHL franchise here. Would he want to do it again?

In light of Baker's report, it seems certain that he wants to help build an arena for both leagues in Tukwila. Here's the big question: does he simply want to sell the land to an ownership group or does he want to be part of one?