SEATTLE -- Seattle arena investor Chris Hansen says he envisions taking on multiple investors to fill the void left by Steve Ballmer's departure from his group.
Hansen appeared on Sports Radio KJR on Monday in his first local interview since Ballmer last week purchased the Los Angeles Clippers for $2 billion. He said he still views landing an NBA team as a "much more difficult" challenge than securing investors, but will need additional deep pockets.
"There are very few people in the world with Steven's net worth or financial well-being," Hansen said of Ballmer, to KJR host Dave Mahler. "But having said that, would we be able to put together a partnership group that had a similar kind of mindset . . . and has the financial net worth to make this a reality?
"I just don't think that's an overarching concern here. I don't think it's an overarching concern for the NBA either."
Hansen added: "It's likely that we would bring on at least another partner, or two, or three. I don't think we want 20 partners. I think a handful of good partners is great."
He noted that recent sales of the Clippers, Milwaukee Bucks and Sacramento Kings showed no shortage of wealthy investors interested in becoming NBA owners. Many of them, he added, came from outside the cities where teams were located.
Hansen said he had other investors lined up before Ballmer joined his group in 2012. He gave no time frame for adding partners, saying he's focused on getting an environmental impact study of his arena plan completed by summer's end.
Officials are waiting for Hansen to forward additional documentation needed to complete the study as part of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between him, the city and King County. That MOU runs three more years and requires Hansen's group to land an NBA franchise before it can access $200 million in city and county bond funding toward construction of a $500 million arena.
Hansen has long maintained his group needs that bond funding to proceed.
But that argument could be a tougher sell with local politicians, who just watched Hansen's former partner, Ballmer, outbid his nearest rivals by $400 million with a final Clippers offer analysts say vastly exceeds what that club is worth.
Hansen has not responded to interview requests by The Seattle Times since Ballmer's attempts to buy the Clippers became public.
Hansen told Mahler he has no plans to personally try to alter the agreement to accommodate an NHL expansion franchise if Seattle was to secure that ahead of any NBA team. But Hansen left the door open to potential NHL owners to try to rework the MOU themselves by providing municipal officials with greater financial guarantees.
"If the city and the NHL and a prospective owner would like to change an MOU that accommodates them and it's not worse off for us, that's great," Hansen said.
The big issue, he added, will be finding a way a hockey team can do that without adding more risk to the city's position. Hansen is known to be talking behind the scenes with a prospective Seattle NHL ownership group led by Los Angeles investors Victor Coleman and Jonathan Glasser.
That group and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman met last month with Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine to look at making the MOU work for hockey.
Hansen said his group views hockey as a "break-even proposition" and that his main goal remains an NBA team. He said NBA franchise prices likely rising after the Clippers purchase is actually good news for local politicians worried about taking on risk.
"Franchise value going up is great for the city," Hansen said. "The city has more collateral."
Even so, recent municipal elections and the "redistricting" of city council seats ahead of a 2015 vote have made the MOU more contentious an issue than previously. New mayor Murray said last month he doubts the current MOU would survive if put to a vote in today's political climate.
That leaves Hansen with challenges ahead as he tries to get his arena built. But he says he's up for it, his group has patience and that having Ballmer as an advocate among NBA owners won't hurt.
"We've lived up to our end of the bargain," he said of buying arena land, striking a local deal and pursuing teams when available. "And you'd better believe that we'll be aggressive when another opportunity does come up."
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