Former city council member Judy Nicastro and a team of cohorts are in the planning stages of an initiative that could, she says, bring the NBA back to Seattle. If passed by King County voters this fall, the measure would create a stadium district to fund the renovation of Key Arena or build a new stadium.
“I want basketball back in Seattle and this is the only way we can do it,” says Nicastro.
Rather than rely on funding from the public at large, the bond measure would likely rely on future user fees and entertainment surcharges for performers at the venue to fund the project. “We are working now on what financial structure would be,” Nicastro says, unwilling to reveal the identity of the people she is working with yet. But funding, she says, “would not be the general public. It would not be a property tax, not a sales tax.”
This differs from Qwest Field, which is funded in part with taxes on lodging and the lottery, and Safeco Field, which is funded in part through taxes on restaurant and bar sales.
A new basketball arena would also require private funding. Perhaps, Nicastro says, even Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who in 2008 pledged $150 million to retain the Sonics, would chip in. The Sonics left Seattle in 2008 after failing to get public funding to renovate Key Arena, which was constructed in 1962 and renovated in the mid 1990s at a cost of $75 million.
Renovating Key Arena would require an additional $100 million, paid off over 20 years.
“People don’t want to pay for a stadium, and they are not going to have to unless they use it,” she says.
But Nicastro, who now lives in Kirkland, isn’t married to bringing a team to Seattle proper. “We have not determined if it would be remodel of Key Arena or a new facility,” she says. “Bellevue has been very interested. If we raise enough money to do it in Bellevue, that’s fine with me.”
Nicastro plans to ask the King County Council to forward the measure to voters on the fall ballot, bypassing the standard process of circulating petitions. Is that realistic, considering the county is already planning to forward a public-safety and human-services sales tax measure to voters in August?
"The concept of bringing a team back is exciting, but obviously to get something on the ballot there is a lot of work that needs to be done," says King County Council chair Bob Ferguson. The council would need to approve the initiative by the last Monday of July, and several meetings and hearings would need to be held first. "My advice to them is to get a proposal out quickly if they are serious about November," he says.
King County executive Dow Constantine spokesman says Constantine "is interested in bringing an NBA team back to the region. Supporters recently mentioned some ideas to him in passing. He is looking forward to learning more."
“It is ludicrous that we don’t have basketball. How can you lose NBA to Oklahoma? That is embarrassing,” says Nicastro. “Key Arena is a crap hole anyway.”