Chicago investor Don Levin, who has owned the minor league hockey team Chicago Wolves for the past 19 years, spoke to Seattle sports journalists this week about his desire to invest $ 100 million dollars of his own money in a new sports arena in Bellevue, Washington and hopefully lure professional franchises from the NHL and NBA to the region.
The proposed arena location in Bellevue is only 20 minutes east of the Sodo District in Seattle where the city’s other two sports stadiums were built and where San Francisco hedge fund manager Chris Hansen purchased a block of adjacent land with the expectation of building a future arena to lure NBA and NHL franchises to Seattle.
On Monday the Metropolitan King County Council representing the greater Settle region will discuss and possibly even vote on Hansen’s Sodo district arena plan which has drawn opposition from the Port of Seattle, an industrial district of Seattle that operates nearby shipping docks where concerns have been raised about traffic congestion if the arena deal receives final approval. The Seattle City Council will also weigh the proposal, and vote by the end of August.
Hansen said he wants to build a new arena in the Sodo district where he acquired the land with dreams of building a new 18,000 arena with a combination of private and public financing. Hansen’s property is close to a railroad station, interstate freeway, and is within walking distance of downtown Seattle.
Hansen wants to become an NBA owner along with his A-list team of interested NBA team investors which includes business heavyweights Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, and Peter Nordstrom whose family founded Nordstrom’s and once owned the Seattle Seahawks.
If an NBA team is acquired in the near future, the city of Seattle would contribute $115-120 million while King County would invest $5 million with the understanding that the arena would be built large enough to accommodate a future NHL hockey team to help offset some of the costs.
New legislation before the County council would approve $5 million in bonds for the project Chris Hansen and his group acquire an NBA team. If investors bring both NBA and NHL teams to the arena the county funding obligation would grow to $80 million.
The city and county would jointly own the land.
Hansen and his investment group would fund the remaining amount of money needed to build the arena with its estimated price tag of $490 million. They would likely contribute $290 million to the building and also purchase a National Basketball Association team if one becomes available in the future, a potential private contribution that could reach as high as $800 million.
Hansen said that he must first secure a commitment from the NBA that Seattle could acquire an NBA franchise before he breaks ground on the new arena, assuming that the City of Seattle and King County have approved his arena proposal.
Hansen acknowledged that if politicians in Seattle drag their feet and refuse to accept his arena proposal, then other outlining suburbs in Seattle will jump at the chance to build a new arena.
“We’ve said all along that if an arena isn’t built in Seattle, it probably will be built somewhere else,” Hansen said on 710 ESPN Seattle radio’s “Bob and Groz Show” on Thursday.
“I mean, that’s just a fact. Whether it’s Bellevue or Renton or somewhere else that we haven’t thought of….. it’s highly likely an arena is going to be be built in the next three or four years” he said on the radio show.
Speaking about the economic impact that could be felt across the region if an arena is built in Bellevue instead of Seattle, Hansen pointed out, “If the arena’s built in another tax jurisdiction its true, you’re not putting up $200 million, but the general fund will receive a hit as Seattleites leave their city and go spend somewhere else.”
Chicago investor Don Levin and the city of Bellevue stand ready to benefit if Hansen’s Sodo arena plans are rejected by elected officials in Seattle and King County.
Levin is confident that he could get an arena deal completed in Bellevue and pointed out that city officials have been supportive of his new plans to build an arena on some unspecified parcel of land in Bellevue that is reportedly near the highway and close to a future lightrail station that could easily accommodate sports fans.
Levin said that unlike Hansen’s proposal in the Sodo district of Seattle, he does not need to secure a professional franchise before he breaks ground in Bellevue to build a new arena.
He remains committed to putting up 100 million dollars of his own money to help fund the arena.
“I would take that risk but keep in mind that I have a great relationship with the NHL that goes back many many years that give me a big leg up than anyone else that wants a team” he said.
Levin not provided specific details about how he plans to fund the remaining amount of money needed to build a new arena except for saying that he plans to use the city’s bond capacity.
It remains unclear whether Levin has other investment partners like Hansen’s A-list team to help him fund a future arena and NHL team in Bellevue.
Levin has reported that he has some investors from Canada that are interested in partnering with him.
Looking beyond some of the vagueness of Levin’s new Bellevue arena plans, it is clear is that he is very interested in becoming a future NHL owner in the Seattle region and finding an NBA owner to share the expenses of a future arena.
The owner of future Seattle NBA team could become a tenant in Levin’s proposed arena in Bellevue if Seattle politicians reject Chris Hansen’s Sodo district arena plans.
“I’d be interested in teaming up with anybody,” Levin said on Thursday.
However, Levin also said that he is not interested in partnering with Chris Hansen on the air when questioned yesterday on Seattle King 5 T.V.
Levin believes that he has stronger credentials to operate an arena and own a professional franchise. “I have been involved with these buildings for years….its a different animal, its a different business” Levin told King 5. “Whereas I have 19 years of experience doing it, Chris has none” Levin bluntly said on King 5 TV.
“And he (Chris) believes he knows how to do these things and listening to him……. while I respect his opinion I am not sure I agree with him” he said.
Although Levin describes himself as a stronger candidate to build a new arena and run a professional sports team, he has made public statments about working with Hansen if his Sodo District arena receives approval.
Levin is optimistic about the regional support for a future NHL franchise. “It’s probably the best market in the United States that does not have a hockey team demographically,” Levin told The Seattle Times in a telephone interview Thursday.
Seattle receives strong support for its minor league hockey teams and is within a two hour drive of cosmopolitan Vancouver, British Columbia where support for the Vancouver Canucks is widely viewed as strong.
“I imagine there’d be thousands of Canadians that would come to every game because they can’t get into the building in Vancouver because it’s sold out and it’s such a good team,” Levin told the Times.
“That would give them an opportunity to come to the city for a weekend to see hockey” he said.
Belleuve has a growing downtown core of restraunts and hotels just waiting for the opportunity for sports fans to spend money in their the city on the way to a sports event or concert.
While the NBA is interested in expanding its international support for NBA basketball, Bellevue could become a good location to bring Canadians closer to the game of professional basketball.
But for now Levin’s plans are on hold. The outcome reached by Seattle and King County politicians in the days ahead will likely impact his quest to build an arena in Bellevue. It is expected that the professional sports franchises would retain the name of Seattle in their sports team name even though an arena could be located in nearby Bellevue.