The Seattle City Council voted unanimously Monday to approve a plan to let a group of private investors build a new stadium on the site of the current home of the Seattle Storm and the former home of the Seattle Supersonics, as part of a push to land an expansion NHL franchise later this year.
The effort to bring a hockey team to Seattle is being led by in part by Tim and Tod Leiweke, whose names you may recognize from their recent roles in North American professional sports. Tim Leiweke is the former CEO and president of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Toronto Raptors, among other professional sports franchises. Tod Leiweke was the chief operating officer of the NFL from July 2015 until earlier this year. Tim is leading the investor group building the new stadium; Tod is set to take over as CEO of the potential expansion NHL franchise.
The stadium deal is distinguished from other recent stadium projects in that demolition and construction costs will be paid for by investors, and not by taxpayers. The Seattle Arena Company will reportedly spend $700 million demolishing the existing arena and building a new one on the same site, and will reportedly pay the city about $5 million a year for the land, an arrangement that one Seattle councilperson described as “a big deal.” But that doesn’t mean the deal is without incentives:
The city will pay ArenaCo about $350,000 a year for the first 10 years of the deal to cover the sales tax ArenaCo will pay during construction. The city will also pay ArenaCo any admissions taxes collected on tickets for events at the new arena beyond the amount the city currently collects from admissions taxes on events at KeyArena.
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Given how deeply fucked stadium deals have become, that Seattle was able to hammer out a deal that spares taxpayers the kind of insane longterm debt inflicted on, say, Cobb County, Georgia, feels like a major accomplishment, even while detractors will rightly point out that capping the city’s share of ticket tax revenue and exempting the ownership group from property tax is tantamount to providing an expensive public subsidy. Stadium deals have become so lopsided, and the leverage is so stacked in favor of team owners, it’s no wonder Seattle needed more than a decade to finally secure this equitable an arrangement.
“In many ways, today’s full council vote is the closing chapter of a story fourteen years in the making,” [Councilmember Debora Juarez] said in a statement, “I am so proud of this moment and what it represents, including our history with both the Sonics and our future with the World Champion Seattle Storm, a proposal which could ultimately lead to over a billion dollars in private investment in Seattle Center. We have achieved a feat rarely seen in the construction of sports stadiums - a public-private partnership where the taxpaying public doesn’t pay for arena construction. I am proud to have played my part in the creation of a world-class asset for our city.”
Whatever chance Seattle hopes to have of someday bringing back the Sonics is surely strengthened by the promise of a shiny new arena. The current arena will host an exhibition game between the Golden State Warriors and the Sacramento Kings on October 5, for its last scheduled event. The Seattle Hockey Partners group is reportedly set to pitch the NHL on a Seattle expansion franchise sometime in the next week.