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Seattle officials approve NBA arena deal as threat of lawsuit looms

Seattle Supersonics fan Kayla Rydberg, 5, of Auburn, Washington, holds up a "SOS: Save our Sonics" sign before the start of their NBA game a
Seattle Supersonics fan Kayla Rydberg, 5, of Auburn, Washington, holds up a "SOS: Save our Sonics" sign before the start of their NBA game a

By Jonathan Kaminsky

OLYMPIA, Washington (Reuters) - Both the King County Council and Seattle City Council on Monday approved an NBA arena public financing deal even as the union representing Seattle longshoremen threatened a lawsuit to block it.

After the county council approved the deal unanimously, the city council followed suit with a 7-2 vote. Both bodies had previously approved earlier versions of the agreement.

"While we still have a long way to go, this is the most significant step the region has made to bring back the NBA since 2008," Council Chair Larry Gossett said in a written statement.

That year, Seattle lost the SuperSonics to Oklahoma City, where the team was renamed the Thunder. The move came after the owner faulted Seattle officials for not coming up with a plan to build a new arena.

The team's departure after four decades infuriated Seattle basketball fans.

"I thank the City and County Councils for their hard work and their approval of the arena Memorandum of Understanding," Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn said in a statement. "This is another important step toward bringing the Sonics back to Seattle."

The arena deal builds on an agreement struck in May between hedge fund manager and aspiring NBA franchise owner Chris Hansen, King County Executive Dow Constantine and McGinn. It requires an outlay of up to $200 million in public bonds to help pay for the $490 million project.

The public bonds would be repaid by taxes and rent payments generated from the arena. If that money falls short, Hansen is required under the deal to make up the difference.

Hansen has spent millions of dollars buying land in a neighborhood near downtown Seattle, known as SoDo, where two stadiums house the Seattle Mariners baseball and Seahawks football teams. The area is also home to the city's port.

The agreement triggers an environmental review of the proposed project that will explore at least one alternative arena site.

The city's dock worker's union opposes putting the arena in SoDo, saying it would clog area roads and drive away shipping business. The union claims the agreement runs afoul of state law because it names the SoDo location as the project site before an environmental review has been conducted.

"Our union supports the return of the NBA to Seattle, and we are not opposed to an arena somewhere in the Puget Sound region, said Cameron Williams, president of Local 19 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, in a statement.

"But we cannot stand idly by while Mr. Hansen and his well-connected lobbyists, along with our elected officials, build an arena in a location that threatens the livelihood of our members and many other workers in the maritime industry."

The union said it planned to sue after McGinn and Constantine sign the revised agreement, which they are likely to do Tuesday.

Hansen's plan calls for having teams from both the NBA and the National Hockey League play in the new arena, but ground could be broken on the project for an NBA team alone.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Eric Walsh)

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