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Bellevue still 'in the game' for NBA/NHL arena

Bellevue is "in the game" for a new NBA/NHL arena, and a proposal may come forth in the near future, officials said Tuesday.

As part of a forum sponsored by the Bellevue Downtown Association, City Manager Steve Sarkozy revealed that the city has been in consistent talks with private investors to try and create a plan for a new arena in Bellevue.

"We think with this very thoughtful approach, working with private investment groups, we think this project is very real for the Eastside," Sarkozy said. "Bellevue is very much an option."

The discussion came in the wake of news about the possibility of an NBA arena in Seattle. San Francisco-based hedge fund manager Christopher Hansen, a Seattle native, has said he would put up most of the cost an arena in Seattle's SoDo area, with a city/county contribution that would be repaid through taxes and charges on tickets and concessions. This piggybacked the possibility that Sacramento may not be able to get a new arena deal done to keep its team. Sacramento was able to complete a deal Monday, possibly ending the chance of getting a team this season.

Bellevue has been a rumored destination for a new arena going back to when Clay Bennett purchased the Sonics basketball team in 2006. Bellevue officials have stayed tight-lipped on these discussions in the past, but today called it the city's "worst-kept secret."

Bellevue has a number of possible locations – the Auto Row area near 116th Avenue Northeast, and the Bel-Red district. Both of those areas are set to be developed in the future.

Officials speaking at the Bellevue forum said multiple options for arena placement need to foster a helpful discussion, not a competitive one. Officials cited Los Angeles, which lost its NFL franchise in 1995, failing to get a new team because of lack of cooperation between potential ownership groups.

"We have to show that we can do better than Los Angeles, and we can discuss multiple site locations in a way that is professional and productive," said Brian Robinson, founder of Arena Solution, a coalition of sports figures and business leaders trying to lure a team back to the area.

Perhaps Bellevue's greatest strengths is its demographics. As a home to many of the region's largest corporations, Bellevue, and the Eastside as a whole, would benefit from a large-scale meeting place. A significant percentage of Sonics season ticket holders resided on the Eastside.

The discussion continues to swing on the financial aspects. Sarkozy said he was given a "license to hunt," but not a license to spend money on pursuing an arena. He said he was looking for a deal that required less involvement than the Hansen proposal in Seattle.

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