Arizona Coyotes fans are well aware of the importance of growing the game to new markets and various regions throughout North America. Seattle has been on the hotstove for NHL expansion (and yes, relocation) for several years now. But new developments in the Greater Seattle Area may mean the NHL has a path to the Emerald City sooner than expected.
We reached out to John Barr of NHL to Seattle, a long-time hockey enthusiast who has been providing excellent coverage of the developments in the Pacific Northwest, with a few questions about the new arena plans. Here's what he had to say:
Five For Howling: It seems that a new possible location for a Seattle NHL arena is gaining headway. What can you tell us about this new possible destination?
John Barr: That’s correct. There has been rumblings of some alternative Arena sites for a while since Gary Bettman mentioned the city of Tukwila by name in a press conference. Ray Bartozek’s name emerged earlier this week as the lead person on an arena in the city of Tukwila 11 miles south of downtown Seattle.
As you might recall, Bartozek was reported as the backup plan for the Coyotes if the Glendale city council did not approve the Leblanc and Gosbee lease agreement. So Bartozek has been around for a while and seems intent on putting an NHL team in Seattle.
FFH: What would be the advantages and/or disadvantages of this location relative to the original location in Downtown Seattle?
JB: The big advantage is the entire building process can move much quicker than the Seattle Arena process, and that Bartozek group has control of the land. The land for the Seattle Arena that has been part of the discussion over the last 3 years is controlled by Chris Hansen, whose passion is bringing an NBA team back to Seattle. The prospects of the NBA expanding to Seattle seems unlikely which makes the Seattle Arena at risk.
From a location standpoint, Tukwila is only 11 miles from Seattle and Bellevue/Redmond/Kirkland, but it is in a tough spot for traffic which could scare people away for weekday games. Earlier this week, I left my house in Seattle at 7pm and got to the location in 15 minutes, so it could be a perception issue. Being south of the City [Seattle], the Tukwila site also helps tie in Tacoma which is the third biggest city in Washington. Based on survey information I conducted, Tacoma has a pretty strong hockey fan base.
FFH: Tukwila is a pretty small community population-wise. Would the arena be entirely privately financed? Or would the city or King County have to provide some kind of funding?
JB: It is being reported that it is 100% privately funded but the full details have not emerged. A majority of these projects require some level of partnership from local governments to make it work for both parties so I expect there might be some investment from the City of Tukwila.
Population Map of the Greater Seattle-Tacoma Metropolitan Area, courtesy of NHL to Seattle
FFH: What is the traffic situation like in Seattle? How would the different locations affect fans' ability to get to the arena?
JB: Traffic is bad everywhere in Seattle. The Mayor has recognized it and the county has recognized it. There are several initiatives going on to make it better but as a whole, the region is very behind.
The traffic to the Tukwila location has been the number one concerns I’ve heard from fans. During the week, it will be tough for folks that live north of Seattle or Bellevue to get to games. There is a decent amount of public transit capabilities coming from the south but very little coming from the north where a bulk of the population in the region is located.
That said, I am certain that there are fans in LA and San Francisco area that fight through a heck of a lot more traffic than Seattle folks would do to get to the Tukwila location. I would imagine any perspective owners could work with the league to identify travel tolerances of fans to see if this might be an issue.
FFH: How likely do you think Chris Hansen moves forward with a downtown Seattle arena if it looks like the NBA is not returning anytime soon?
JB: Tough to know since the Hansen camp has been very quiet over the last 6 months. He has been very transparent that his intent and passion is to bring the Sonics back to Seattle. He has been supportive of an NHL team and certainly wants another anchor tenant in the building. He has said he is open to the Arena being built with only prospects of an NHL team, but it will require some separate agreements and negotiations with a prospective NHL owner.
So far Don Levin, Ray Bartoszek, and most recently Victor Coleman have not been able to reach an agreement with Hansen so the prospects are not looking good for an NHL first scenario that would enable the Seattle Arena to be built. With the news of the Tukwila site, it could trigger some new discussion to see if it can work.
Thanks to John for answering our questions, as well as providing good coverage of both Seattle's arena situation and attendance figures league-wide for several years now. He's been a friend to the Coyotes for many years, so here's hoping both of us will be watching our two hometown teams play in the regular season in the near future.