Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson
Who needs the thrill of NBA basketball when there are rollercoaster arena battles to follow? While many in our area would prefer to be rooting for the Sonics and not high-stakes, public and private investment deals to fall through, nonetheless some excitement seems to be back in Seattle today as news trickled out of Sacramento Thursday that the tentative deal reached in late February between the City of Sacramento and Kings' owners Joe, Gavin and George Maloof might be less of a sure thing than originally reported.
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson
Many in Seattle have been keeping a close eye on the situation, as failure to reach an arena deal in Sacramento could potentially open the door for the team to be sold to a Seattle-based group led by hedge-fund manager Chris Hansen, who has offered up $290 million of his own cash to make an arena in Sodo a reality, and has expressed strong interest in being part of an ownership group that helps bring NBA basketball back to town. The Maloofs have also discussed moving the Kings to Anaheim.
The Los Angeles Times reports the Maloofs may be harboring "increasing skepticism" that the arena can be built in Sacremento. Last year plans to move the team to Anaheim were being hatched before NBA commissioner David Stern (that guy!) stepped in and gave Sacramento one more year, allowing Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson - an ex-NBA point guard - a chance to nail down a financing deal for a new arena.
Last month it seemed that had happened, though yesterday's developments may spotlight potential cracks in the plan.
From the Los Angeles Times story:
Documents reviewed by The Times this week show Kings owners Joe, Gavin and George Maloof dispute that they have a firm agreement to participate in a new entertainment and sports complex in the city.
Additionally, in a Wednesday letter delivered to city leaders under the subject "ESC feasibility concerns," the Maloofs' attorney writes "unresolved issues regarding the ... project remain ... ."
Maloof family spokesperson Eric Rose also tells the Times, ""If an arena project cannot be completed by the timeline set by the city, then the Kings would be forced to explore all of their options."
Presumably those options include the possibility of selling the team to a Seattle-based ownership group.
Furthering concerns in Sacramento Thursday that the arena deal may not be a certainty - at least until Stern (that guy!) stepped in late in the day - The Sacramento Bee reported yesterday that the Maloofs were "balking" at the team's $3.26 million share of predevelopment costs for beginning construction. Naturally, because this is Sacramento and not Seattle, Stern stepped in and announced that the NBA will advance the team the necessary funds.
From The Bee:
Hours after the Kings' team owners said they do not believe they should pay a $3.26 million share to help launch arena pre-development work, Stern told The Bee in a statement the league itself will step in to advance the initial payments. A source close to the negotiations but not authorized to speak said those payments total about $200,000.
City officials said they need the funds, coupled with $6.5 million from the city and $3.26 million from AEG, the arena operator, for pre-development work to maintain a tight schedule for arena construction to start next year.
While this monetary intervention by Stern may have momentarily saved the day, The Bee reports the recent developments also carry the potential of reigniting a testy relationship between the Maloofs and the City of Sacramento.
Thursday's events renewed bitter feelings that had surfaced last year between the city and the team owners when the Maloofs attempted to move the team to Anaheim.
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson issued a terse statement late Thursday, pointedly challenging the Maloofs' willingness to make a deal work in Sacramento.
"The success of the new entertainment and sports complex depends on complete trust and partnership among all parties," he said. "It was with that spirit that we all agreed to a deal in Orlando, including the Maloof family, who looked an entire room in the eye and promised their commitment to Sacramento.
Of course, the real question in all of this - at least locally - is what does it mean for Seattle?
While many fans may be excited at the possibility of Sacramento's arena deal potentially falling apart, Brian Robinson, president of the Green and Gold Community Coalition and its ArenaSolution.org, says Seattle shouldn't be distracted from what's really important in its quest for an NBA team - getting the Seattle City Council and King County Council to sign off on a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) backing Hansen's proposal and the efforts to build an arena fit for the NBA and NHL in Sodo. An arena advisory panel, appointed by Mayor McGinn and the County Executive Dow Constantine, has been examining Hansen's proposal and should deliver its findings sometime in the next few weeks. If it all falls into place in time, Hansen could then take the MOU to the NBA ownership meeting in April to make the pitch for Seattle.
Robinson says the important thing is for Seattle to be ready.
"I don't think that anyone watching [the Sacramento arena situation] is very surprised," says Robinson of Thursday's developments. "Everyone knows there are still steps to be taken."
"It's a very good example of why we need to be ready when a franchise becomes available."
"Right now you have a lot of the components in place," Robinson continues, referencing Hansen's willingness and money, along with the potential site for the arena. Robinson also cites the need for a willing local government and, obviously, eventually NBA and NHL franchises. "We're one step away."
"We can't impact what other cities do," says Robinson of the Sacramento arena situation. "We need to stay focused and be ready."