Plans to renovate KeyArena just took one big step forward: Oak View Group has been officially selected to re-build the Seattle Center venue.
Oak View Group was the only proposal left at the table after Seattle Partners, which includes AEG, pulled their bid over the weekend.
At a press conference outside the Key, flanked by reps from various local sports franchises—including current Key anchor tenant the Storm—plus former Sonics coach Lenny Wilkens, Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini, YouthCare CEO Melinda Giovengo, OVG CEO Tim Leiweke, and King County Labor Council’s Nicole Grant.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, without acknowledging AEG’s pulled proposal, said he’d decided to select OVG’s proposal because it “will be the best deal for Seattle” and “will bring the Sonics back eventually.”
Murray acknowledged “two strong proposals.”
OVG’s plans were “superior,” said Murray, based on city guidelines and public feedback. He said that the proposal’s financing played a huge role.
“Seattle voters have made it clear that they don’t want a publicly-financed sports arena,” said Murray, who noted that OVG’s proposal is entirely privately-financed with no use of city bonding authority.
Murray said it’s the “most likely to succeed, protect the city, not put taxpayers at risk.”
When pressed later about where he draws the public financing line, the mayor said “no bonds” and that it’ll “have to be a better deal than we’re seeing now.”
Before flouncing, AEG had requested use of the city’s bonding authority. In a letter to the city, they raised concerns about an “unrealistic financing structure.”
Speaking after the Mayor, Leiweke said any story about risk to taxpayers “completely inaccurate.”
Leiweke detailed their strategy for courting NHL and NBA teams, including integrating MSG as part of their bid. “Without them, we’re not here today.”
He acknowledged “an enormous amount of time without an anchor tenant” at the stadium while they wait for an NBA and NHL team, which seemed at odds with the city extending the Storm’s lease until 2028. (Murray later clarified that the Storm are an anchor tenant, and that Leiwke will be working with them on finding a place to play during construction.)
—which raises some questions about their commitment to Seattle’s WNBA team, the Seattle Storm. (The city just , so they’ll have a home at KeyArena regardless.)
Not allowing another proposal for an NBA and NHL stadium from Chris Hansen in SODO be an elephant in the room, Leiweke said they want Hansen to be part-owner of whatever NBA team they end up courting.
“Chris, if you want an NBA team, this is the way it’s gonna happen,” he said.
Former Sonics coach Lenny Wilkens said he’s “excited” about the project.
OVG’s proposal gained two new partners just this morning: film producer Jerry Bruckheimer and Boston Celtics minority owner David Bonderman.
“We mean business. We’re gonna get you teams,” said Leiwke, adding, “first up will probably be the NHL.”
Michael Rapino of LiveNation said Seattle “doesn’t have a world-class venue” and are looking forward to bringing us one.
He said LiveNation doesn’t normally take an ownership stake in their projects, but their confidence in the project and Leiweke led them to do so for this project.
After questions were raised about the arena’s transportation plan—to simplify the issue, some worry about congestion around KeyArena—Murray said that coming up with a solution that works is a key part of the deal.
Now that the selection letter has been signed, the next step is for the city to enter Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) negotiations with OVG. Murray says his term ending soon won’t delay the MOU process.
That MOU will have to be approved by the city council. They’ll hear details on the new proposal at their next select committee on civic arenas meeting, which includes all nine members of the council, on July 10.