Nine things to know on KeyArena deal with OVG, city of Seattle

posted by Curtis Crabtree - 

Tim Leiweke 6-7

SEATTLE -- There was a lot to take in and digest from Wednesday's hour-long announcement that the city of Seattle was partnering with the Oak View Group for a potential renovation of KeyArena.

Mayor Ed Murray, Oak View Group CEO Tim Leiweke, OVG board member Irving Azoff, Vancouver Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini, NBA Hall of Famer Lenny Wilkens and more were on hand near the International Fountain just east of KeyArena to announce the agreement cultivated after a months long request for proposal process.

OVG was the proposal that garnered the most interest from the city of Seattle over the proposal submitted by Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), who officially withdrew from consideration last weekend.

While there was a lot promised and proposed in the announcement, here are the nine things you need to know:

1. There is currently no binding agreement between OVG and the city of Seattle.

The agreement reached between the two sides merely was to award the selection of OVG as the winner of the request for proposal process. OVG and the city of Seattle will need to now hammer out concrete details of an agreement that ultimately gets them to a point where they can sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the project.

That means firming up the financial commitments from both sides, addressing the transportation issues in the Seattle Center area and more. In fact, mayor Murray said that if the two sides cannot reach agreements in these areas, they would become "deal killers."

"We must agree on the final financial deal, one in which the city is left in a strong position and one where OVG can sustain their business model for the long haul," Murray said. "We must make sure that the final design is well integrated into Seattle Center and enhances and integrates with the surrounding neighborhoods. We must work with OVG to make sure that parking and transportation plans are in place that move people to and from Seattle Center with little impact on the surrounding neighborhoods."

However, both sides are more than confident they will be able to reach an agreement.

"I assure you that the commitments we've made, we will fulfill," Leiweke said. "... This is the most important project our company will ever do. It's certainly the most important project I will ever do."

2. Once negotiated in full, OVG's proposal must go through full city process.

The city and OVG cannot sign an MOU until after the MOU for Chris Hansen's proposal for an arena in SoDo expires later this year. It's unlikely a new MOU is signed before December. Once a deal is signed, the agreement will have to go through the same city processes that Hansen's deal had to go through several years ago. That includes an Environmental Impact Study (EIS), which includes traffic and transportation assessments by the Seattle Department of Transportation.

That can be a lengthy process as well and it took several years for Hansen's proposal to clear all those hurdles. The agreement will also need to be passed by the city council in order for an MOU to be reached.

"I'm also somebody who believes that Seattle can get things done faster than we usually get things done," Murray said. "We've had this discussion on KeyArena for a decade-and-a-half. I think it's time to act and it's time to act now and I don't think this opportunity is one that we should pass up."

Whether Murray's faith in a speedy process will be realized is yet to be seen.

3. Tim Leiweke is guaranteeing at least one winter sports franchise will come to Seattle.

Leiweke is making big promises when it comes to bringing a third major professional sports franchise to the city of Seattle.

"We're going to get you a team," Leiweke said. "Mark it right here, I promise you. Two things you can count on, we're going to build you a world class arena that will be top in the business, top ten in the business for music and sports, and we're going to get you at least one team."

The NHL is clearly the most achievable goal at this point in time. The league will have an uneven number of teams beginning next year with the expansion Vegas Golden Knights joining the league growing the league to 31 franchises. The Calgary Flames and New York Islanders continue to be franchises will building situations that aren't suitable for long-term residency as well.

But regardless, Leiweke is being definitive with his promises. He also led AEG previously when the company was seeking to return the NFL to Los Angeles in a proposal that never came to fruition despite significant bluster as well. It's a promise he'll be held to if OVG's proposal leads to a rebuilt KeyArena.

4. The NHL certainly appears on board with the KeyArena proposal.

With Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini showing up for the announcement of the agreement on Wednesday along with the announcement of David Bonderman and movie producer Jerry Bruckheimer as partners in a potential NHL effort, it certainly appears as though the project has the blessing of the National Hockey League.

The NHL is in the midst of the Stanley Cup Final and has been reserved in regards to their comments toward Seattle's effort to get a new arena that could potentially house an NHL team. However, it seems unlikely that a current NHL owner would show up for an announcement such as the one on Wednesday without some tacit approval from the league to do so.

"We have listened to the commissioners. We know what they're saying. We know how they feel about expansion. We know what the opportunities are out there," Leiweke said. "We're going to follow the lead of the commissioners. I would say the first shot that is most likely to happen is an NHL team. And if we do well with that, I think we make an even better argument for an NBA team.

"We have no commitments from them, no guarantees, no expectations but I believe there's a good opportunity that all of this is going to come together in a positive way for Seattle."

Bruckheimer was one of the potential owners of the new NHL team in Las Vegas. Bonderman is a part-owner of the Boston Celtics and made an attempt to purchase the Golden State Warriors. Leiweke said Bonderman has been seeking an NHL opportunity for 15 years and that Bruckheimer is a massive hockey fan.

5. The NBA doesn't seem to be a reality in the short-term.

Both Leiweke and Murray tempered expectations regarding the return of the NBA in the near future.

"You can't force the NBA to go expand if they don't want to and right now they're not talking about it," Leiweke said. "Let's be honest. We're focused on what comes our way. "

Added Murray: "The NBA has been very clear to me that the financial model for the current owners is one that works for them and so at this moment they aren't willing to change that financial model. I think that financial model is mostly based on television and the revenue from that and I guess when that changes, opportunity might arise."

The NBA has been lukewarm on the idea of expansion and no franchises are current thought to be in significant peril in their current markets. Leiweke said the league has made it clear to them that the league is not looking to expand in the near future.

6. SoDo plan is "technically" alive, but all but an afterthought to mayor Murray.

Hansen's project in SoDo remains one street vacation away from being "shovel-ready." However, mayor Murray clearly views that project as an afterthought compared to their new venture to fix KeyArena.

"Well, the SoDo plan is still technically alive," Murray said. "And the council, of course, (street) vacations are in the council purview, not ours. Work could be done on doing it, but if we were going to send it back down to the council though, I would want a very different process than was used the first time and get all the players on the same table and try to come to an agreement so it doesn't fall apart. That's the best answer I can give you."

Hansen's group has asked for the city council to explore the potential street vacation of Occidental once again after this group has proposed to fully privately finance their project, which is a departure from the $200 million in public bonds sought by the agreement with the city in his MOU.

Regardless, Murray seems uninterested with SoDo and wants to overhaul the city-owned asset for KeyArena instead.

"We own this property," Murray said. "This property is in desperate need of renovation if it were to exists even without major teams we'd have to do something with it. If there's an arena built somewhere else, we have a huge liability on our hands, a place that could easily go dark and have a negative impact on the neighborhood."

7. Leiweke opens door for Chris Hansen to join them as NBA partner.

While the KeyArena project is already touting a new potential NHL owner in Bruckheimer, they can't say the same about an NBA ownership.

Leiweke made a public proclamation suggesting Hansen get on board with their efforts at KeyArena and to potentially serve as the NBA ownership group at the site should a team become available.

"We again invite Chris, join us. You want an NBA team. We want an NBA team. Be a part of that with us, get behind this, we'll pay for the arena," Leiweke said.

"We're going to do it in a way where if Chris Hansen wants to join us on the NBA, we would like him to be a part-owner of the NBA team. So Chris, if you want an NBA team, this is where it's going to happen and we will lead the charge with the people that we have that we're bringing into this group."

Hansen still has an MOU with the city for the SoDo project until late this year. It would seem naive to think he would be looking to partner with OVG at this point in time. Circumstances may change in the future, but for the time being the two projects will be continuing on separate paths.

8. A new arena likely at Seattle Center likely will not open before 2021.

With the city and OVG unable to sign a new MOU until at least December, and then a potentially lengthy public process to follow, the timeline for the opening of a new arena at Seattle Center is more than likely 2021.

Seattle has committed to hosting the NCAA Tournament at KeyArena in March 2019. Construction on the new facility could not begin until after the tournament's completion. Then with a full rebuilding of the facility, the construction process will likely take two years before the arena could open for use.

In order to move that timeline up, the public process would have to be expedited and the city would need to find someway to get out of the commitment of hosting the 2019 NCAA Tournament.

9. Leiweke says OVG will handle all cost overruns, no risk to taxpayers.

While OVG's proposal has been submitted to the city and made public with their financial suggestions for the project, the particulars of the deal still need to be negotiated between the city and OVG before the MOU can be signed.

Nevertheless, Leiweke committed to the stance that OVG will handle all cost overruns and burdens that may come along so the cost doesn't get stuck on the public.

"Yes. That's never been an issue. That's always been our commitment," Leiweke said. "And by the way, the operating costs and risk of operating. And by the way, the capital expenditures and the additional capital we had to put into the building for 35-plus years. ... We've made it very clear, whatever they're making today on KeyArena and the parking garages, we're guaranteeing that to them. They will not go backwards. We will take care of the capital. We will take care of the operations and we will put up the money to go build this.

"We're not asking the taxpayers to write us a check or take any risk, including if the building comes in more expensive than we thought."


Photo Credit: Oak View Group's Tim Leiweke speaks to the media about his company partnering with the city of Seattle on a proposal to renovate KeyArea on June 7, 2017. Also pictured, mayor Ed Murray, NBA Hall of Fame inductee Lenny Wilkens. (photo by Curtis Crabtree / Sports Radio 950 KJR)

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