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King County Council Questions Chris Hansen On Arena Deal

Deborah Wang

San Francisco hedge fund manager Chris Hansen is scheduled to appear before the Seattle City Council Wednesday. He will be answering questions about his proposal to bring an NBA arena to Seattle's SODO neighborhood. Tuesday Hansen made his first appearance before the King County Council to talk about the arena's financing.


Hansen wants the arena to be paid for in part with bonds issued by the city of Seattle and by King County. The bonds would be financed by revenues from the arena, not by taxpayers. But members of the King County Council wanted to be sure that taxpayers would not be left holding the bag if anything went wrong. Chris Hansen replied there is no way to have zero risk.

Hansen: "You know, Al Qaeda could have a nuclear attack here, there could be a tsunami that comes over the seawall, and it's impossible for us to take away every single possible risk that could damage the city and the county in this transaction. I think what we've tried to go through is reduce the risk to such a minimal level here there is not a reasonable scenario under which the city and county would not –– general funds would not be protected."

Hansen says investors have gone to a lot of trouble to protect taxpayers. Any NBA team that comes to Seattle would have to sign a 30–year non–relocation agreement. That means the team couldn't move somewhere else before the bonds are paid off.

The owners' investment in both the arena and the NBA team would be put up as collateral, so if the owners default, the city and the county get ownership of both.

Hansen says it would be a one in a million chance that the city and county would end up ever losing money on the deal.

If the deal is such a good one, Councilmember Pete Von Reichbauer asked, why not let King County voters decide whether to accept it? Hansen argued no.

Hansen: "Government would be dysfunctional if it required a public vote on every single ordinance that was attempting to be passed. That's why we have elected officials. That's the purchase of general elections for council members and governors and mayors –– "

Von Reichbauer: "We did put it up for the Seahawks, we did put it up for the Mariners, I believe we should put it up for the Sonics."

Hansen: "Well, I appreciate your opinion."

Von Reicherbauer: "I appreciate that."

Von Reichbauer was one of two council members expressing interest in a public vote.

Councilmember Julia Patterson also asked whether most residents would be able to afford to buy tickets for the games. Hansen said he would make sure the arena is designed to have affordable seats for real fans, like people from his old neighborhood in South Seattle.

The city of Seattle and the King County councils will have to approve the arena plan before it can proceed, and before the owners can go shopping for an NBA franchise. There is no firm timeline for a vote, but it may come later in the summer.

I'm Deborah Wang, KUOW News.

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