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Private funding for Seattle arena could reignite talk of further expansion

Chris Hansen’s desire to build an arena in Seattle has led to a new proposal that would see his group stay away from public funds, and if the proposal goes through, there’s a chance we could see an NHL-ready building in Washington State.

The NHL’s 31st franchise in Las Vegas doesn’t even officially have a name and already there could be reason to start wondering about the potential for the league to add another franchise in the future. And no, the speculation isn’t about a new team in Quebec City.

For the better part of the past several years, there has been talk about the potential for a new arena in Seattle, but King 5 News’ Chris Daniels reported Tuesday that businessman Chris Hansen, who has been at the forefront of the drive for an arena in Seattle’s SoDo area, has made an offer that could be too good for the city to pass up.

At a time when cities and taxpayers are often on the hook for millions of dollars when new arenas are built, Hansen and his group are proposing that they privately fund the construction of the new arena at “no cost to the City or the County.” That’s right: the owners of the building are proposing they go out of pocket to get the arena built.

There are a few catches, though. In order for the deal to go through, Hansen and Co. are asking that a portion of Occidental Avenue, which is located near the proposed site for the arena, be vacated, and that tax credits are given, “just as similar waivers have been granted for the other sports venues.”

Of course, none of this is to say that the arena deal is now automatic, nor does it absolutely mean the NHL will be heading to Seattle. In fact, Hansen’s letter to council makes several references to the NBA, and it’s clear the intention is to have the building erected with the desire to return professional basketball to the city. After all, it was the NBA’s TV deal that played into the group’s proposal to privately fund the building.

In the letter, Hansen and Co. outline that the “economic landscape has changed” since the group and the city first entered into a memorandum of understanding about a potential arena. The group outlines the passing of the recession, a “new economic cycle,” declining interest rates and, most importantly, that the NBA’s TV contract has created “more financial certainty in the industry.” The group goes further, though.

“Our goal has always been to return the NBA to Seattle and to build a new arena to make that possible,” the letter, via King 5 News, reads. “Our partnership with the City and County started five years ago and was based on a recognition that private financing of a new arena in the prevailing economic conditions was not economically feasible. The goal of this partnership was to build the Arena and bring an NBA team to Seattle.”

And while the letter may not make mention of the NHL, Seattle mayor Ed Murray did in his statement regarding the proposal. According to Daniels, Murray said the proposal will be reviewed, and added that council shares “the goal of bringing the NBA and NHL to Seattle.”

Even if the proposal is accepted, it doesn’t mean an NHL expansion team heading to Seattle is a given. However, Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, who also serves as chairman of the board of governors, made it clear he was interested in the opportunity for a team in Seattle as the league went over expansion bids in October 2015.

“I’d love to see us in the West to be up in Seattle,” Jacobs told ESPN’s Joe McDonald in October 2015. “Seattle’s a natural, and I would love to see one in Houston, but we can’t get into that building. There are conditions and circumstances in each one of these that we have to take into consideration.”

However, more recent comments by Jacobs might point towards the NHL waiting a long while before adding another team. Earlier this month, Jacobs told CSNNE’s Joe Haggerty he didn’t believe there was much desire for further expansion at this time and that the “league is looking for more stability.”

That, along with the time it takes to build an arena, could mean we’re still years away from seeing an expansion team in Seattle. But if Hansen’s proposal goes through, it becomes a much more viable option as a location for a possible 32nd team.

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