While a Bellevue arena deal with an anonymous NHL expansion team group froze over earlier this month due to financing and timing issues, Mayor Claudia Balducci says the opportunity was worth considering, and could be again in the future.
“When an opportunity comes to the door, we have to look at it,” she said.
The city had been approached by IntraVest Development of Arizona about the potential for constructing an NHL arena in Bellevue’s Wilburton neighborhood, as well as by Jac Sperling, a Colorado broker representing a potential team group.
It was reported by the Seattle Times last week that a lack of financing prompted the private parties to withdraw their interest. Balducci said the city was working with a very fast deadline set by the parties and also required a monetary commitment.
“They would have to put some kind of earnest money down,” she said. “It doesn’t look like this thing is going to happen, at least not now.”
Leading the discussion for IntraVest was Mason Cave, one of the company’s founding partners. While the financing needed to continue discussions didn’t materialize, Cave did make $950 campaign donations to both Balducci — running for King County Council — and Councilmember John Stokes, who is seeking reelection, back in April, according to the Public Disclosure Commission.
According to handwritten notes the city released to the Reporter following a public records request, New Orleans and Tampa Bay came up during discussions. There had also been discussion on June 16 about a potential 15-year lease of the AutoNation Ford property by IntraVest. That dealership burned down on April 25.
On June 24, Bellevue Planning Director Chris Salomone sought advice from Jay Reich, an attorney with the Pacifica Law Group who provides legal assistance for the city, about what information to provide to local media if questions came up regarding the NHL expansion and Bellevue previously being considered as a stadium location.
Reich cautioned the city could provide no comment or remove itself from consideration, later suggesting a balanced statement that suggested interest in an NHL proposal while clarifying there had been “no proposal to consider and we do not want to speculate.”
“At the same time, (the city) needs to be very cautious because it may not want to engage in an open competition with Seattle and Tukwila and it is clearly premature to say very much since no proposal is before it and (the city) would not want to over-promise city commitment of energy or resources,” states Reich’s email.
Reich wrote back to Salomone on June 29 regarding an upcoming meeting with NHL expansion proponents, advising the planning director of important topics to address, such as enthusiastically voicing support for an arena while specifying that would not include public financing.
“The City Manager would presumably need to express the ‘community’s’ support for such an effort and the City’s willingness to lead or partner in this (arena) effort,” states Reich’s email.
While public financing for the arena was off the table, Reich stated the city should express interest in potentially financing public infrastructure surrounding an arena project and offering prioritized land use decision making. The city would want a solid business plan for a multipurpose professional sports arena with at least an NHL franchise in a “family entertainment district” that included hotels, restaurants, etc., according to Reich’s email.
“While all of this would be subject to due diligence, public process and review, even initial support would require a proposed development of a quality and scale that would be positively transformative for the Wilburton Area,” Reich wrote.
A memorandum of understanding would have outlined how the discussion between IntraVest and the city proceeded, which Balducci and Deputy Mayor Kevin Wallace said would have included a thorough public outreach process.
“I’ve had some conversations, and over the years we’ve had conversations with people who have expressed an interest in a potential stadium in Bellevue, and it hasn’t been terribly realistic,” Wallace said. “In my view, nothing can happen until we have a good understanding of how the traffic impacts would be mitigated for a stadium.”
Wallace added discussions with IntraVest and former Bellevue arena suitors have never reached the point where feasibility studies have been warranted.
IntraVest’s interest in the Wilburton neighborhood was due, in part, to having visibility from I-405, said Wallace. With the traffic impacts the opening of a Chick-fil-A had there, Balducci said the affect a stadium would have on transportation would seriously need to be looked at if a proposal ever gained traction.
“I think they’re interesting conversations, and I think we’re flattered that Bellevue is considered a good location for a stadium,” Wallace said, “but the most important thing, in my opinion, is to protect what we have.”
Balducci said a stadium could be a positive for Bellevue, but she does not feel the city should end up using public money to support such a venture.
Funding for the Mariners’ Safeco Field was provided by the state Legislature through a funding package adopted by the King County Council, and CenturyLink Field in Seattle cost taxpayers $300 million.
“It could be a good opportunity, but there’s also a number of challenges,” Balducci said, “and I’m not really interested in using city money to support these types of things.”