Efforts to bring the NBA back to Seattle took a giant step forward in a revised arena deal announced Tuesday, with investor Chris Hansen agreeing to kick in more money for transportation improvements near a proposed new arena, personally guaranteeing the city's debt - and offering to buy everyone a beer.
The plan for the $490-million arena, which could also host an NHL team, represents the best shot at bringing the NBA back to Seattle. The SuperSonics ended their 41-year run here in 2008 and skipped town for Oklahoma City, where they became the Thunder.
Though formal votes are still required, Tuesday's announcement effectively gave Hansen, a San Francisco hedge-fund manager, and his fellow investors, including Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Peter and Erik Nordstrom, of the department store clan, the green light to begin shopping for an NBA team.
The deal calls for $200 million in public financing to be paid back by arena-related taxes and rent. Under new terms announced by city council, Hansen would double to $30 million the reserves required to be kept on hand in case the arena's finances don't perform as expected.
Should the reserve run dry, Hansen would cover the balance himself. He agreed to be independently audited to assure that he's worth at least $300 million.
And at the end of the 30-year use agreement for the new arena, the city could force Hansen to buy it back for $200 million or make him pay to have it torn down should the team move on.
The three city council members who announced the deal said the new terms mark a significant improvement for taxpayers over the original deal reached between Hansen and Mayor Mike McGinn in May. A council committee is expected to vote on the agreement Thursday, and the full council could vote as early as Monday. The King County council already approved the earlier deal.
"This agreement could fundamentally change the model of how public-private partnerships involving sports franchises are structured," said couns. Tim Burgess.
Hansen, a Seattle native, early Facebook investor and big Sonics fan, said the talks were difficult, but that he was happy to be able to find common ground with city council. He thanked the fans who supported him through the process, and - though not actually part of the deal - he offered to buy a celebratory beer for anyone who shows up Thursday evening at FX McRory's, a bar near the planned site of the arena.