Geoff Baker recently asked why Chris Hansen feels the need to have Occidental Avenue vacated now, wondering openly if it the purpose is to attract new investors.
The biggest [question] surrounds why he is asking the city to grant him a “shovel-ready” arena plan when he lacks the financing to execute his vision. Remember, Hansen wants to own both the arena and NBA team that would play there.
With all due respect to Geoff, the answer seems pretty straightforward. It’s not about attracting new investors. It’s about attracting new teams.
While it’s true we don’t know how close the NBA is to formally exploring expansion, we know exactly where the NHL is in the process. The league chose to expand to Las Vegas next season, but delayed indefinitely the decision on a second expansion city to even things out. No matter how much NHL executives claim that having an odd number of franchises is no big deal, don’t kid yourselves. Scheduling out a season under that circumstance is a headache they will want to rid themselves of when the right city is ready.
The NHL will expand again. Nearly every NHL reporter with an opinion believes they are waiting for Seattle. But will the league wait forever? Do we really believe there are no cities capable of swooping in to take advantage of Seattle’s inaction? I’m trying to keep an open mind on Key Arena as an option because of the involvement of OVG and AEG, but does anyone not believe that Chris Hansen’s proposal would be built much more quickly if given the green light?
Deputy NHL Commissioner Bill Daly was on the Sekeres and Price show yesterday. When asked how likely Seattle is to be the 32nd franchise and how closely the league is monitoring local arena development, his response was predictable.
“What arena development? Look I think our biggest issue with the Seattle market is we don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves. If and when there are firm arena plans, and those plans are going to be executed, and there is potential ownership interest in an NHL franchise. If and when those things happen, then perhaps it’s something the board has to think about and consider, but none of those pieces really are in place at this point in time.“
Now that Hansen has changed his proposal to a privately financed one, the conditional vacation of Occidental is the last of those remaining pieces, unless you count the need for a potential NHL owner to step up with an equity investment into Sodo Arena.
Oh, and by the way? Daly also expressed skepticism that a remodeled Key Arena would be up to NHL snuff.
“Renovation is always a very relative term. I guess the question is how significant a renovation are you making? I don’t know if you guys have had a chance to see the new Madison Square Garden. It’s on the same site as the old Madison Square Garden. It has the same roof, but it’s a totally different building. If you’re talking about a renovation on that scale, you’re really talking about a new building. Again, I don’t want to get too far down the path of what might happen at Key, but I don’t think the board would look very favorably on moving into an arena, expanding into an arena I should say, that really is built more for NBA basketball than it is to accommodate an NHL franchise. I think any new facility there, if it ultimately has any prospects to host an NHL franchise one day, will have to be a very NHL friendly building.”
To be fair, we won’t begin to know the answer to Daly’s question until we get a chance to examine the RFPs that will be submitted by the end of April. We don’t know how significant the proposed renovations will be. We don’t know how “very NHL friendly” they will be either. Maybe AEG and/or OVG will blow our minds with design concepts we haven’t thought of.
But we do know that Hansen’s team intentionally designed the Sodo proposal with sight lines that are optimized not for basketball, but for hockey. We know that, unless one of the Key Arena proposers pulls off a miracle akin to the parting of the Red Sea, that Sodo will have significant advantages in footprint, parking, traffic, and practice facilities.
It sure seems like vacating that glorified alley would give the NHL Board of Governors something to “think about and consider.”