Will the Seattle Storm stay at KeyArena if a new facility is built?

Sep 14, 2012

A revised agreement for a new Seattle sports arena that was unveiled this week got people talking again about the future of KeyArena. As part of the amended deal with lead investor Chris Hansen, the city negotiated $7 million for upgrades to KeyArena and a study about its future.

That future may not include the Seattle Storm, according to KPLU sports commentator Art Thiel.

Would the Storm move?

Art thinks the Seattle Storm would eventually move to a new sports arena south of downtown, along with KeyArena's only other tenant, the Seattle University men's basketball team.

"The Storm has a choice to make but they're staying neutral. They don't want to say anything bad about KeyArena because they're a tenant and they want good relations with a city that's subsidizing them."

The city of Seattle is currently subsidizing the Storm to the tune of $300,000 a year. In turn, the Storm does community outreach. That was negotiated in 2008 when four women purchased the Storm from then-new owner Clay Bennett, who had planned to take them to Oklahoma City along with the Sonics.

Storm: KeyArena not a slam dunk

In an open letter to fans on the Storm's website, Karen Bryant, the team's president and CEO, addressed questions about the possibility of the 2010 and 2004 WNBA champions moving out of KeyArena.

"A great deal of a franchise's financial stability is linked to its lease. Revenue growth opportunities at a new arena would help ensure the stability of the Storm well into the future. But a new arena will likely result in higher costs too. The City has justifiable concerns that KeyArena as currently configured and utilized would not be able to compete with the new arena. The City may need to repurpose the KeyArena for other uses that don't include basketball. Our guiding principle is that any agreement has to make sense financially, be good for our fans and promote the long-term stability of the Storm."

KeyArena's future may not include sports

Art says, if a new arena is built, it would not only be used for NBA and, potentially, NHL games but also for top concert events. He says KeyArena's footprint at Seattle Center will never make it a desirable place for major concerts - there's only one loading dock area, for example. But he says the facility could still have a future.

"The city still has a building that is a centerpiece of the Seattle Center, which is supposed to be Seattle's front porch. So, they're trying to find life after the Sonics for it. The only good thing Clay Bennett did when he stole the Sonics from Seattle and moved them to Oklahoma City was buy down the debt of the remodel in 1995. But it is in need of constant upgrades and improvements."

The $7 million the city negotiated from Chris Hansen this week would be used in two ways. $5 million would go toward upgrading the facility for all users - in addition to the money Hansen plans to spend upgrading the arena to allow the new Sonics to play there temporarily if a new arena gets built.

The other $2 million would be spent for a study on a future for KeyArena without any sports tenants at all - a way to keep it active and contributing to the economic health of Seattle Center and area businesses.

You can find Art Thiel's work at Sportspress Northwest.