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KeyArena consultants offer strong track record

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Consultants will help review OVG’s proposal and negotiate a favorable MOU with the city

Seattle City Hall

On Friday, the city revealed the bulk of the independent consultant team that will aid in their review and negotiations with Oak View Group over a proposed redevelopment of KeyArena.

The names were identified in related documents attached to the agenda for the meeting of the city council's Select Committee on Civic Arenas held earlier today. The committee met for the first time since Mayor Ed Murray announced his selection of OVG's proposal as the winning bid for the KeyArena request for proposal.

Working with the executive staff on the actual arena development will be Carl Hirsh of Stafford Sports; on construction management will be Ken Johnsen of Shiels Obletz Johnsen; on the financial proposal will be David Abrams of Inner Circle Sports; and as outside legal counsel will be James Leonard and Charles Farrell of the firm Faegre Baker Daniels.

Carl Hirsh

As managing partner of Stafford Sports, LLC, a leading sports and entertainment advisory firm based out of New Jersey, Hirsh has over 25 years experience in the public and private sectors related to the planning, development, and operation of sports and entertainment facilities.

According to his bio on the Stafford website, Hirsh was hired specifically by the City of Orlando to aid in the negotiations for Amway Center; has aided the San Antonio Spurs with operation and management of the AT&T Center as head of Stafford's Strategic Advisory Services; and represented Florida's Broward County in the initial financing and subsequent debt restructuring of the Broward County Civic Arena, now known as BB&T Center, home to the NHL's Florida Panthers.

Hirsh has previously worked with Madison Square Garden on developing a potential new arena. While working for Comcast-Spectacor in the early '90s, he represented the company in the development, construction, and management of the Wachovia Center (now Wells Fargo Center) in Philadelphia.

Closer to home, Hirsh helped develop a financial restructuring plan for the then-Rose Garden for the Portland Trail Blazers. More specific to Seattle and the Sonics, Hirsh was hired as a consultant by Howard Schultz to aid a committee headed by Schultz and then team CEO Wally Walker to explore options for a KeyArena renovation or new arena shortly after the Starbucks magnate purchased the team in 2001.

Hirsh was also the consultant hired by former mayor Mike McGinn to assist with negotiating and crafting the original proposed MOU when Chris Hansen came to the city with his SoDo arena concept back in 2011.

David Abrams

Per a profile from Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times, Abrams has nearly 30 years of experience in investment banking for sports venues. He currently heads the division focused on investment and development of sports stadiums and arenas for New York-based boutique Inner Circle Sports.

His bio at ICS' corporate site reveals he previously advised the group looking to build an arena and secure a new NFL franchise for Houston back in 1999-2000. That group initially lost out on expansion to a group from Los Angeles, but was awarded expansion when the LA group couldn't secure their proposed arena deal.

Abrams also advised the city of Jacksonville on a bond issuance to renovate Alltel Stadium (now EverBank Stadium) for the Jaguars. Not to be outdone in Florida, he consulted for Dolphins Stadium for over 15 years in Miami, and advised the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in lease negotiations and funding of Raymond James Stadium with the city of Tampa.

Ken Johnsen

Johnsen is president of Shiels Obletz Johnsen, a urban development project management firm based out of Portland and Seattle. He has been prominently involved in a number of high-profile civic development projects in Seattle and currently serves as the project manager for the city on the Seawall project.

According to his bio on the SOJ website, Johnsen managed the renovation of King Street Station and Pike Place Market; as well as the design and construction of City Hall and the Justice Center. He was influential in carrying out then-mayor Greg Nickels South Lake Union redevelopment plans, and he managed the construction of the South Lake Union streetcar line.

Johnsen was most recently responsible for the city's Waterfront redevelopment project. He also served as Executive Director of the city's Washington State Major League Baseball Stadium Public Facilities District during the design and construction of Safeco Field.

James Leonard

Faegre Baker Daniels LLP is a well-regarded law firm headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota handling regional, national, and international law in a number of fields, including corporate, labor, environmental, intellectual property, tax, health, government, and regulatory law.

James Leonard is a partner at the firm, working out of their Denver office. He handles corporate reorganizations and recapitalizations, as well as sports and entertainment law. He works with MLB's Colorado Rockies and aided in Liberty Media Corporation's purchase of the Atlanta Braves from Time Warner. He also works with both USA Hockey and USA Basketball.

Per his bio at FaegreBD's site, Leonard's focus in sports is in contracting; intellectual property; mergers and acquisitions, including corporate sponsorships; licensing; stadium use and naming rights agreements; and purchases and acquisitions of sports properties.

I was unable to find anything on Charles Farrell, though it's possible he is an associate aiding Leonard.

Overall, a pretty impressive and experienced group to offer some exterior counsel to the executive team as it negotiates and crafts an MOU with OVG. A deadline of September 12th has been set for the MOU.

The city council still plans to hire its own independent consultant to review the financial proposal.