Saturday, August 30, 2008

Enough! Back to the arena.

What is supposed to be coming up in September is another meeting of the state task force.

Back on August 18, Eric D. Williams posted on the Tacoma News Tribune, With Sonics gone, KeyArena looks to future (in my link list).


The City of Seattle is working with a task force created by the Legislature, co-chaired by Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, and Sen. Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way. The seven-member group is charged with evaluating the options for using King County taxes, some of which are being used to pay off debt on Safeco Field, Qwest Field and the demolished Kingdome.

Though none of the money is from state taxes, the Legislature must authorize the county or city to use the money for anything other than what was originally intended. And the Sonics aren’t the only ones in line – the University of Washington, looking for financial help on a stadium renovation of its own, along with local arts groups and organizations involved with low-income housing and Puget Sound cleanup also want their share.

The task force will meet at least two more times to listen to presentations from groups seeking money before making recommendations to state lawmakers late this year.

“What I would love to see is some kind of consensus of, here is what we should do with this,” Hunter said. “I don’t know if we’ll get there. Every person has a different interest. But my personal interest is letting people make decisions on their revenue.”

Alex Fryer, a spokesperson in Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels’ office, said Nickels is asking the Legislature to consider restoring the city’s ability to raise money through the hotel-motel tax that funds the Washington State Convention and Trade Center.

The tax rate in Seattle is 7 percent, but Fryer said about 6 percent is needed to pay off the remaining bonds. So the city is asking the Legislature to reduce the Convention Center tax to 6 percent and restore the remaining authority for the city to extend 1 percent of that tax as part of its overall finance package to remodel KeyArena.

Fryer said the tax would apply only to hotels and motels inside the Seattle city limits. That change could potentially make the proposal more politically palatable.

“We believe our chances are good next year,” Fryer said. “We hope the Legislature values professional basketball as a cultural benefit, an economic engine and a regional attraction. We have a good deal with the Professional Basketball Club and a good venue with KeyArena. We need state action, and we hope to make a strong case.”

Lawmakers last session considered several proposals for financing a $300 million KeyArena remodel, but none of them gained enough steam to merit a vote.

The task force had an information gathering meeting in July and will meet again in September.

Brian Robinson, co-founder of Save Our Sonics, a grass-roots organization that worked to keep the team in Seattle, is involved in a coalition of sports-related and business groups interested in seeing KeyArena remodeled. He said Save Our Sonics plan to hire a lobbyist to help with the city’s effort during the 2009 session of the Legislature.

“I think the city understands that having gone there four years straight with the same approach that they have to try some new things,” Robinson said. “And I think the city will change their approach, and hopefully they change it in a positive manner.”

Robinson said he’d like to see the city use some of the $45 million it received in the settlement to bring another professional basketball team back to Seattle.

“They took $45 million toward the city general fund in exchange for our team,” Robinson said. “And from the perspective of a sports fan, I don’t think it’s unrealistic that some of that money is dedicated to an effort to secure a new team.

“They have to put their money where their mouth is. They promised a strong effort toward pursuing a new team, and so far they are. But we’re going to watch them very closely.”

This is really the hard part, convincing people that should not be involved to not get in the way.


The private investment group headed by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer still is interested in working to bring professional basketball back to Seattle, said Matt Griffin, a spokesperson for the group.

Griffin said his group has had conversations with the city to make sure it is taking the lead on the initiative to secure state funding to remodel KeyArena. The private investment group, which includes Ballmer; Griffin, a Seattle developer; wireless magnate John Stanton; and Costco CEO Jim Sinegal offered to put $150 million toward a KeyArena remodel, along with pursuing the purchase of an NBA franchise. The city has offered to pitch in $75 million, and now needs $75 million in state-authorized local taxes to complete financing for the deal.

Griffin said he became involved in the project because of his concern about what would happen to KeyArena, the cornerstone of the Seattle Center, without a prime NBA tenant. Griffin said he thinks the KeyArena remodel is a viable option for an NBA team, and doesn’t see his group getting involved in a privately financed arena.

“I personally worry about KeyArena,” Griffin said. “And we want to solve that problem at the same time.”

Griffin said he hasn’t heard anything from the NBA about the availability of a franchise

“It’s (a) hard discussion to have when you don’t have an arena for them to play in,” Griffin said. “We will go and make an effort. We are clearly committed to the process, but it still takes a willing seller of a franchise.”

That's really where we are at with Key Arena. There is a willing buyer for an NBA team . That buyer is willing to pay $150 million dollars to remodel the parts of Key Arena that effect the NBA.
The City has committed to user the sports generated revenue t pay for its' 75 million dollar portion.
The city is working with the state to direct locally collected funds that are currently used for the Washington Convention Center in Seattle, to the Key Arena remodel in Seattle.

July 16, 2008 there was a state task force meeting:

Local Financing Options for King County, Joint Task Force* - 07/16/08 9:00 am
Full Committee

House Hearing Rm C
John L. O'Brien Building
Olympia, WA

REVISED 7/15/2008 9:56 AM


1. Task Force administration - selection of Chair, discussion of Task Force goals and meeting schedule.
2. Overview of stadium related revenues in King County including: history, scheduled uses of revenue, and bond repayment timing, and including the current 7%/2.8% hotel-motel tax levied within the City of Seattle / King County dedicated to the State Convention Center.
3. Review of 2008 Legislation: SB 6638 - Reallocating existing lodging taxes for heritage and arts programs in a county with a population of one million or more.


Let's go further back to July, 3, 2008

"Comment from Sen. Ed Murray and Rep. Ross Hunter on Sonics settlement
Posted by Niki Sullivan @ 11:56:39 am" [Tacoma News Tribune]

Here's what Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, has to say about the Sonics settlement. Murray, a member of the task force to meet this summer on King County local taxes, said he hasn't read the settlement but has been briefed.

"My concern is that some of the sources we're looking at give me puase. An example would be the convention center and some of the funding that would come out of the money that we're getting out of the convention center... I think we need to look at renovating and expanding the convention center before we talk about diverting that money into KeyArena."

He said the Legislature wasn't involved in the deal-making. "That wouldn't be appropriate."

"We have time now to look at our options through this task force. Again, I think we need to be very cautious about where we get the money so that we don't hurt other needed projects or tax sources."

"I'm not saying we won't act, but I think we need to be deliberative. We have time ... using public money for the use of sports facilities is very controversial and I think we need to be very careful."

On whether the less-than-optimistic revenue forecasts have any effect on this, he said, "It's certainly something we have to take into consideration."

Update 2:37 p.m.: I just talked to Rep. Ross Hunter, who's also on the task force. Here's what he had to say after reading the settlement:

"It's very vague and it's intended to be vague," he said. "They want the state to take some action that makes $75 million available to this. Obviously we could just give them $75 million, which is unlikely – heavily unlikely. Or we could allow the city to shift funds from one account to another."

That fund-shifting is in reference to a pool of unused money from the Seattle hotel-motel tax that pays for the convention center. While Murray didn't seem hot on the idea, Hunter described it as excess money that could be used without affecting the convention center's future.

"If it's in Seattle's best interest to remodel KeyArena and attract a professional basketball tenant, that would be a reasonable basis."

He said projected budget shortfalls and decreasing revenue forecasts could have an effect on the political wrangling. "We have a number of things that are more important than dealing with this problem."

He said he's a skeptic on the idea of subsidizing sports teams. "It's just not attractive to me. I don't think that's what we're doing here."

"If the basis is, we want to spend taxpayer dollars to subsidize players' salaries, then no."

It should be noted that neither House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, nor Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, are willing to talk today. (Brown did issue a statement yesterday, though.)

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