Former city council member Judy Nicastro and a team of cohorts are in the planning stages for an initiative that would help bring the NBA back to Seattle. If it makes the ballot and is passed by King County voters this fall, the measure would fund either the renovation of KeyArena or the building of a new arena.
"I want basketball back in Seattle, and this is the only way we can do it," says Nicastro.
Rather than rely on taxes or public funding, the bond measure would likely leverage future user fees and entertainment surcharges for performers at the venue to pay for construction. "We are working now on what the financial structure would be," says Nicastro, who is currently unwilling to reveal the identities of the people she is collaborating with. However, she will say that "people don't want to pay for a stadium, and they are not going to have to unless they use it."
The funding mechanism would differ from Qwest Field, which is partially funded by taxes on lodging and the lottery, and Safeco Field, which is partially funded through taxes on restaurant and bar sales.
Renovating KeyArena, were it to happen, would also mean finding private funding sources. Nicastro says she's hoping that sports supporters like Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who in 2008 pledged $150 million to retain the Sonics, would chip in. The initiative, meanwhile, would address funding another $100 million, paid off over 20 years.
The Sonics left Seattle in 2008 after failing to get public money to renovate KeyArena, which was constructed in 1962 and renovated in the mid 1990s at a cost of almost $75 million.
But Nicastro, who now lives in Kirkland, isn't married to bringing a team to Seattle proper—"KeyArena is a craphole," she says—and a new stadium could just as easily be built in the suburbs. "Bellevue has been very interested," she adds. "If we raise enough money to do it in Bellevue, that's fine with me."
Nicastro intends to ask the King County Council to forward the measure to voters on the fall ballot, bypassing the standard process of circulating petitions.
King County Council chair Bob Ferguson—who has not yet seen a proposal—says the council would need to approve the initiative by the last Monday of July, and several meetings and hearings would need to be held first. "The concept of bringing a team back is exciting," he says. "My advice to them is to get a proposal out quickly if they are serious about November."
Frank Abe, a spokesman for King County executive Dow Constantine, says Constantine "is interested in bringing an NBA team back to the region," but notes he hasn't seen a proposal.
"It is ludicrous that we don't have basketball. How can you lose the NBA to Oklahoma?" asks Nicastro rhetorically. "That is embarrassing."