SEATTLE — This unfolding Seattle arena situation is more of a family affair than you might think. For evidence, just scout the attendees at certain holiday dinner tables.
Lance Lopes, the former Seahawks executive tabbed by Tim Leiweke to run the Oak View Group’s efforts at a KeyArena renovation, is married to one Susie Ridder of Saratoga, Calif. It so happens that Wally Walker, a primary Seattle partner with entrepreneur Chris Hansen and his Sodo venture, is married to former Saratoga resident Linda Ridder.
Yes, Linda and Susie are sisters, from the Ridder family forming half of the one-time Knight-Ridder newspaper empire. And that makes Lopes and Walker — standard-bearers for competing arena projects — brothers-in-law.
Seriously, such family connections put a new spin on Leiweke’s recent statements that he’s explored joining forces with Hansen once the city decides on an arena site. If KeyArena is chosen, Leiweke says he’d welcome Hansen as an NBA team owner in that facility.
And if the Sodo venture gets greenlighted, Leiweke would consider helping build that facility.
Now, this could all be lip service. But regardless, the two sides pooling resources makes sense — especially given mayor Ed Murray’s comments to KUOW public radio late last week suggesting Hansen can’t get teams here without help.
Murray ruffled a few Christmas trees with that comment, despite its accuracy. Fact is, Hansen has had years to deliver NBA and NHL teams — both with NBA relocation efforts in 2013 and an NHL expansion process last year — but hasn’t.
The city wants Hansen to prove teams are coming before selling him part of Occidental Avenue South that runs through his planned arena site. City council members are reluctant to leave the future of Occidental — and the surrounding neighborhood — in limbo for years while Hansen pursues teams and figures out whether he’ll ever build.
Hansen insists he needs the street to complete a “shovel ready” arena plan or the leagues will never give him teams.
But Leiweke’s plan has no such complications. Leiweke told me weeks ago and repeated last week that he’d renovate KeyArena into a “standalone” world-class concert venue.
Beyond concerts, the arena would be NBA and NHL ready. But the entire overhaul would occur regardless of whether teams ever come.
It’s the equivalent of Leiweke building “on spec” with what he says will be private funding. That trumps Hansen, who wants Occidental but can’t guarantee ever building on it.
That’s how Murray clearly sees it.
But Oak View Group is financed by the Madison Square Garden conglomerate, which owns NBA and NHL teams. Leiweke’s company is thus disqualified from owning Seattle teams under league rules.
He’d need team owners from elsewhere. And there’s a potential NBA owner already here in Hansen.
“Our ownership group will always put our individual aspirations second to securing an NBA franchise for our great city,’’ Hansen’s group said in a written statement Friday, in response to Murray’s radio comments.
If true, Hansen owning a team in a rebuilt KeyArena could be doable.
Now, we still don’t know whether a KeyArena renovation is the city’s best option.
The next six months will be spent figuring that out. And if it’s determined the Sodo project is actually better, then Hansen — who lost billionaire Steve Ballmer as his main investor in 2014 — could still benefit from Leiweke’s help.
Leiweke has said he’d explore helping build the Sodo arena — perhaps as an identical “standalone” music venue to start — if KeyArena is ruled out. And with Seattle construction costs soaring, that’s worth serious consideration.
There’s no way the Sodo arena is still close to its original $490 million price tag. Just like the AECOM architectural firm’s $285 million KeyArena remodel estimate is already being dismissed as too low.
Expansion team costs have also skyrocketed to $500 million for NHL and likely more than $1 billion for NBA. Without Ballmer, Hansen has been vague on how he’ll pay for it all.
So, it makes sense for Leiweke and Hansen to discuss joining forces. It would be great news for fans hoping to see the NBA and NHL here.
NBA players and owners last week reached a new collective-bargaining agreement. Owners will want time to see how it’s working out and then — likely within a year — shift attention toward expansion.
So, there’s time to answer the KeyArena question.
Leiweke previously sat on the NBA and NHL board of governors and has kept league commissioners apprised of plans. They seem content to allow this latest round of the Seattle Process to play out.
Bottom line? No teams are available yet. We aren’t missing out on anything.
This is what intelligent cities — and families — do. They work things out in-house, without pressure from external forces.
As I wrote last winter, Seattle is still very much a small town despite its wealth; where everybody within the political and sports business communities eventually bumps up against one another.
Walker and Lopes are brothers-in-law.
Hansen lobbyist Lynn Claudon is stepmom to Jordan Royer, lead lobbyist for a Maritime group among the Sodo project’s biggest opponents.
The Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), also planning a KeyArena remodel proposal, has hired Aaron Pickus to handle media requests. That’s the same Pickus who served as spokesman for then-Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn when he was brokering a Sodo deal with Hansen.
Leiweke doesn’t need to broker sit-downs with Hansen’s side. It’s as simple as Lopes asking Walker to “pass the salt” at the next holiday meal.
Keeping options open could lead to actually getting an arena built a lot quicker. In other words, not just “shovel ready” but “shovels in the ground.’’
That way, the NBA and NHL can start chasing after us for a change instead of the other way around.