One-on-one with arena mogul Chris Hansen

One-on-one with arena mogul Chris Hansen

Chris Hansen

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by Art Thiel

SportsPressNorthwest

Posted on April 28, 2012 at 6:31 AM

Chris Hansen describes himself as a patient guy who takes a long term view of everything in his charge.

Which is good, because he's beginning to feel just a bit annoyed at the process of getting his proposed arena project off the ground.

"So much attention on one thing," he said, offering a small smile Thursday over lunch. He is hoping to advance the public discussion beyond the issues of traffic and parking that have spawned dismay from the Mariners, the Port of Seattle, the industrial council -- his would-be neighbors in SoDo.

But it's not as if his day job as a hedge-fund manager has left him with no experience in the bruising give-and-take of business.

"I have a very thick skin -- I have to in my business," he said. "I’m happy to be engaged in this for four, five or six years, however long it takes to nurture the project, as required."

So for basketball fans lamenting the loss of the Sonics, don't worry: He's not flinching. But beyond the more modest issues of strident words and narrow media focus is a serious matter: Who pays for whatever street upgrades are necessary to placate SoDo's aggrieved parties?

It won't be him. And the city is staying mum.

In an exclusive, lengthy interview with Sportspress Northwest -- the transcript runs in two parts, the first Friday, the second Monday -- Hansen said he doesn't know yet what the resolution will be. He's funding a traffic study, due in about a month, to find out more, but is unlikely to be the only or even primary source of cash for needs that some say could run more than $100 million.

"If someone tries to put me on the hook for an infrastructure project of this magnitude that should be undertaken by the city, it would make this project not viable," he said. "If you tack that onto the cost of an arena, it would be unrealistic."

The issue has come up because a previous city project designed to alleviate SoDo traffic congestion had its funding diverted several years ago to the Mercer Street improvement project. The recession and its subsequent loss of tax revenues has constrained the city budget to re-fund the SoDo fix, chiefly a "flyover" of the railroad tracks on Lander Street, just south of the proposed arena site, that would keep auto traffic from snarling at a busy railroad crossing.

Beyond the issues of convenience for sports fans and teams, the arena project raises big urban-planning questions for the future of SoDo.

As Hansen put it, "There's only one way for downtown to grow."

He and others see the aging industrial district as the future home for high-tech and other businesses to replace the maritime and blue-collar businesses that have long occupied the city's south end. The development of light rail, a streetcar system and the end of the Alaskan Way viaduct open up opportunities and problems for current and future businesses.

In the interview, Hansen declined to talk about prospects for team relocation or who will join him in a partnership to build the arena and purchase teams if and when they become available.

He did say that most plugged-in Seattleites will be familiar with the names on his short list -- should the dream be realized.

"Right now, there's nothing to sign up to," Hansen said. "I’m not under any pressure to put a group together. I’m financing the land acquisition myself.

"There will be plenty of household names on the list. I think you (media) should rest assured that a lot of the right people are interested."

Meantime, he said negotiations over details in the memorandum of understanding between him, the city and King County are going smoothly: "All parties have stayed true to the framework of the deal, and only minor, technical issues remain."

Hansen was relaxed, candid and incisive in his understanding of the logistics and politics that are a part of the deal.

But if he had his druthers, he would have participated in the return of the NBA as a minority owner "with an aspiration to a majority stake when I was more ready."

That said, he is fully engaged, even if he makes his appearances at quiet lunches rather than flamboyant press conferences.

"The (pro sports) owners who are less seen tend to be more successful," he said. "I don’t mean detached. You can’t be detached. This is not a hobby. It does require your commitment at the highest level."

For more on this startling proposal and the man behind it, read the complete interview transcripts Friday and Monday, exclusively at Sportspress Northwest.

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