On a postcard-perfect day, with the sun-splashed Seattle Center resplendent in the backdrop, September 5 will be inked into the history books as a red-letter date for Seattle Hockey Partners and Oak View Group. Together, Tod and Tim Leiweke shared breaking news at the Space Needle of OVG reaching an agreement with City officials for the proposed new Seattle Center Arena, as well as the introduction of the local representation among the ownership group.
Pending City Council approval, the transactional documents take the arena development one giant step toward turning the first spades of dirt early this autumn. By adding a distinguished cast of hand-picked local business leaders to lead investor David Bonderman, Seattle Hockey Partners seeks to solidify its case before the NHL Executive Committee Oct. 2, for acquiring a 2020 expansion club.
Both OVG CEO Tim Leiweke and Mayor Jenny Durkan confirmed the agreement on the transactional documents came only after lengthy and sometimes difficult bargaining by both sides. The documents next go before the City Council for consideration.
Striking a Deal
"It's the single-most complicated deal I've ever seen," said Tim Leiweke, citing the historic marks of the building, the tight timeline and mitigating the effects on the surrounding campus and neighborhoods.
"My job is to make sure this is good not only for taxpayers but every resident of Seattle," said Mayor Durkan, also an unabashed sports fan who had cheered the Seattle Storm to a do-or-die victory the night before. Because the new Seattle Center Arena is completely privately financed, she knows residents "got the best possible deal," and she predicts the city will fall in love with hockey.
"This is a very, very good deal for the City, and we're OK with that because (Seattle Center Arena and Seattle Center) is an amazing asset," said Leiweke, adding that indications from the global entertainment community are that the new arena will immediately become one of the top five concert venues in the world.
"Seattle Center has always been such a heart of what Seattle is," Mayor Durkan said, "and we're going to have a world-class venue, right here in the heart of the city."
Hockey and the Storm, now through to the WNBA Finals in search of a third championship, will be prime tenants in the Seattle Center Arena. Hopefully Sonics 2.0 will follow shortly thereafter.
Partnership Strengthened by Local Leaders
Local ownership for an NHL team is vital, confirmed Bonderman, himself a University of Washington graduate and, incidentally, former Space Needle security guard during the 1962 World's Fair. "It's not that we need the money," clarified Bonderman, "we need the people."
Seattle Hockey Partners strengthened their hand by bringing into the fold seven new local investors: David Wright, Andy Jassy, Adrian Hanauer, Jay Deutsch, Christopher Ackerley, Ted Ackerley and Jeffrey Wright. All of them love their city, said Tod Leiweke, and they leaped at the opportunity to build an organization from scratch, "to create something truly generational."
Both David Wright - who will serve as Vice Chairman of NHL Seattle - and his brother Jeffrey come from a family that not only built several iconic elements of Seattle's skyline (Space Needle, Columbia Tower and the original Seattle Center Coliseum, to name a few), they also helped bring pro sports here initially. Howard S. Wright, their father, was among the first ownership groups for the original Sounders and Seahawks in the Seventies.
A Deep History in Seattle Sports
"I was pretty young at that time, but my dad was very proud of partnering with the Nordstroms and the others to start those teams," said David Wright. "I certainly have very fond memories of going with my family to those games. Forty years later, I'm hopefully going to have the opportunity to do with my kids at NHL games what I did with my dad."
David Wright is a board member of the Space Needle Corporation for which Jeffrey is Chairman, while also serving as Managing Partner for Chihuly Garden and Glass, situated near The Needle's base. "There's a lot of momentum here at Seattle Center," noted David, "and the arena and Chihuly Garden and Glass are great examples of successful public/private partnerships."
Hanauer's Sounders, like the Storm, have brought multiple trophies back to Seattle. The objective is for the Stanley Cup to return here as well (the Metropolitans having accomplished that feat first, in 1917). Under Hanauer's ownership the Sounders first won two USL titles. Since the formation of Sounders FC in Major League Soccer, Seattle claims six championships, including MLS Cup 2016.
The Ackerley name, of course, is synonymous with stewardship of the Sonics during their heyday. Barry Ackerley, father of Christopher and Ted, owned the NBA team from 1983-2001. During that run, the Sonics made three trips to the Western Conference Finals and played in the 1996 NBA Finals.
For more than 34 years, Seattle native Deutsch and Bensussen Deutsch & Associates have been a global leader in sports and promotional merchandising. Deutsch co-founded BDA in 1984 and the agency's first project was with the Seattle Seahawks. Among BDA's league partners is the NHL, along with each of the other major sports.
Jassy is a longtime hockey fan with memories of joining his dad for Rangers games at New York's Madison Square Garden. He has been a Seattleite since 1997, when he joined Amazon. He is now CEO of Amazon Web Services, a dynamic, growing business unit within Amazon.com that he founded in 2003.
With the team of investors assembled and activity under the Seattle Center Arena's landmark roof approaching, Tim Leiweke sees more and more sunny days ahead. "This is the fun part," he exclaimed. To build it, to sell it and - most of all - to fill it."