Group hopes to privately finance new Seattle arena

Group hopes to privately finance new Seattle arena
SEATTLE - A group led by former Sonic Fred Brown has announced a proposal to build a new downtown arena for basketball and hockey in Seattle.

His B2 company, which also includes marketing and former sport executive Dave Bean, says it's looking for financing and a location for a facility to be called the Emerald City Center.

At a Tuesday news conference the group released a statement saying the arena to be financed privately would cost at least $1 billion. It has five possible locations, most near the existing Safeco Field and Qwest Field stadiums.

But as of now, the place has no official location, and no team to play inside. They're hoping to lure an expansion NHL team and an expansion NBA team if the Sonics leave for Oklahoma City.

"Somebody has to have a vision to start," Bean said. "And if it were just a pipe dream, we wouldn't ask you all to come here. We wouldn't put our professional reputations on the line."

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels said Tuesday he welcomes community involvement in the city's business, but he's cool to the proposal.

"We remain focused on improving KeyArena so that it will remain the region's sports and entertainment facility for years to come," Nickels said.

The plan comes from a group calling itself B2 Inc., named for Brown and Dave Bean, senior director of Wongdoody Communications.

The pair say all they need for their Emerald City Center is some cheap real estate, a billion dollars in private money and some volunteers for an advisory board.

Of the five potential sites they listed, their No. 1 choice is along the waterfront at Pier 46 in Seattle's SoDo District. Unfortunately, no one told the Port that Pier 46 here is the top spot to build the ECC.

A port spokesperson says their lease runs through 2015, and under a long-term lease to a container shipping company and they have no plans of leaving early. Nickels says Pier 46 is doing just fine as a money generator for the region .

Locations at the Seattle Center are possible options as well. But still the big question comes down to money.

"There are lots of financial institutions, with the current interest rates, that will be happy to say... 'I'm in,' " said Fred Brown, who was the captain of the 1979 NBA champion Sonics team.

They would not share any names of people who have helped pay for startup expenses.

"At this point it's private, we're not in a position to talk about who it is from, or how much it is from," Bean said.

But Brown, who recently retired from Bank of America, said he knows some financial people who will find the project appealing.

B2 envisions the tourist attraction they hope to build as Washington's version of Disney's Epcot Center, with pavilions to highlight state industry, Native American culture and pioneer history. They expect sponsorship from corporations like Boeing and Microsoft.

Bean said the basketball and hockey stadium (with a retractable roof) is just part of the package and the project could proceed without an NBA or NHL team in Seattle.

The group wanted to get its idea on the table before the NBA commissioners meet to discuss the future of basketball in Seattle, Bean said.

A third "B" - basketball legend Bill Russell, who called himself an old friend of Brown - stopped by the news conference but said afterward he didn't have an official role in the project. "I told him if there was anything I could do to help," Russell said.

The proposed stadium would not have luxury suites. Instead, Bean and Brown are promoting the idea of luxury common space where corporate executives and celebrities could mingle and network.

Bean, who says he was trying to bring professional volleyball to Seattle 30 years ago when Brown was captain of the 1979 NBA champion Sonics team, admitted that the plan is a bit of a long shot.

"I don't know which is going to be harder - pro volleyball or trying to sell this project we're talking about today," said Bean, who also mentioned that he used to sell hot dogs at Tacoma Rainiers games.