Tag: David Stern

seattle arenas

Lawsuits in Seattle give Sacramento head start in race to approve an arena


The question of which city, Sacramento or Seattle, is ahead in the race to bring the NBA a brand new arena attached to a shiny new public subsidy is unclear at this time, but sources with intimate knowledge of the situation tell PBT that so long as Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson delivers on his promises that Sacramento will be ahead in that process.

A lot of that comes down where each city is legally within that process, and how that process is conducted in both Washington and California.

While some early media reports might have led folks to believe that Chris Hansen’s arena deal (and offer to buy the team) were a slam dunk, the documents laying out the framework of his arena proposal are under siege.

Specifically, the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and Interlocal Agreement (IA) he entered into with the city of Seattle and King County have been under intense scrutiny locally, as they are currently the target of two lawsuits.  The first of those lawsuits is potentially being decided today at 1:30 PT.

The first suit brought by the International Longshoreman’s Workers Union challenges the site selection process within Washington’s Environment Impact Review (EIR) process, saying that Hansen and the local government conducted a “sham” site review process that did not provide reasonable, actionable alternatives other than Hansen’s hand-picked site.

That site, located in Seattle’s SODO district, has been the battleground of competing arguments regarding traffic and how it might impact Port of Seattle’s operations, and otherwise cause gentrification, loss of business in the area, and impact a large number of family-wage jobs in exchange for temporary construction jobs and a smaller number of low-paying arena jobs.

Arena proponents point out that most of the events at the proposed SODO site would occur after the Port’s business hours. Arena opponents say that the cumulative impact of creating a third large-scale sports and entertainment facility within their maritime industrial area, with an L.A. Live-like experience of retail outlets and restaurants, will necessarily bring more traffic to the region regardless of hour and disrupt Port operations.

These kinds of lawsuits are standard fare in any large-scale development project nationally right now, but they can have impacts on developments. In this case, opponents of the current MOU and EIR process point out that it could take “hundreds of millions of dollars” to mitigate the traffic issues a new arena would face, according to head lawyer for the ILWU suit Peter Goldman.

Hansen has offered $40 million to address traffic mitigation concerns, but in reality the question of who pays what for additional mitigation has yet to be solved because the EIR has yet to address the issue. Should Hansen have to pay for additional mitigation, it could further strap him and his group as it relates to their overall offer for the Kings, but the fear for locals is that the money would have to come from the public coffers.

The ILWU’s suit alleges a number of concerns relating to the site selection process, and asks the court to force Hansen and the local government to declare the MOU and IA “null and void” because they are in violation of the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA).

It is unclear whether or not this would impact Hansen and the local government’s warranties to the NBA about its current arena situation.

(UPDATE: The judge ruled in favor of Hansen, Seattle, and King county and dismissed the lawsuit.  Hansen and governmental officials argued they did not have an arena agreement in place and that they would look at other locations.)

Goldman said that this suit was “preliminary,” and cited the broad swath of industry that is opposing the arena proposal in its current form. He pointed out that there will be more times for lawsuits to be filed down the road, but that he and his client were concerned that the site selection process wasn’t being conducted according to current state laws.

The second lawsuit relates to Seattle’s in-force Initiative 91 and the contention by its co-author Mark Baerwaldt that the current MOU does not meet the law’s criteria.

Baerwaldt is careful to point out that the courts would decide the matter. His complaints focus on the financing mechanisms that Hansen and the local government are using to meet the statute’s definition of turning a profit on public subsidies for sports arenas. This lawsuit is awaiting response from Hansen, Seattle, and King County.

I-91’s other co-author, Chris Van Dyk, has also been at the center of this discussion, being cited by many Seattle media outlets as being supportive of Hansen and Seattle’s MOU. He addressed those reports exclusively with PBT, saying he “never said it was compliant” and that “if he’s the best cheerleader (Hansen and Seattle) can come up with then they’re in trouble.”

Van Dyk also offered that “he’s looking forward to hearing the expert testimony,” because he didn’t think “I-91 anticipated meeting the type of funding mechanism that Hansen has presented.”

Whether or not the Longshoreman’s suit goes in favor of the plaintiff or Hansen and Seattle, Goldman says to expect more legal resistance down the road.  If they win, Hansen and Seattle has to start over with their MOU and come to the table with alternative sites that they may not like.  Then the city would have to choose between the site that Hansen wants, and a potential site that presents better alternatives in terms of environmental concerns and traffic.

If they lose today, he says that there is a “significant appetite” not just by his clients but a broad swath of industry including the Port of Seattle to appeal the decision and fight the EIR process at every stage. All of the potential delays and injunctions were reflected when David Stern told Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle that the NBA had “no approved plan for an arena in Seattle.”

Therein lies the rub for the Seattle group. While they seek to convince the BOG that they have an actionable arena plan, they are arguing in court that their MOU and IA just lay out a process for reviewing and financing an arena proposal and do not constitute an ‘action’ under state EIR laws. Therefore, they contend that the Longshoreman’s suit is not “ripe” and are asking for it to be thrown out.

Sources with intimate knowledge of the situation tell PBT that this is a tightrope that the Seattle group can walk, and Scott Howard Cooper of NBA.com illustrated that point by saying the league isn’t overly concerned with legal issues in either Seattle or Sacramento, but the question goes back to points made by TNT’s David Aldridge about which city can get an arena deal done first.

Aldridge, who had previously reported Seattle had a “clear path” to obtaining the Kings, said on Saturday “there are questions about whether or not the Seattle deal is as airtight as they say it is.”

After Stern’s press conference on Saturday Aldridge elaborated, “We have very equal bids here. What it comes down to is the feel the owners have on ownership groups, and which arena can be built the fastest.”

The EIR process in Seattle is underway, but with two lawsuits pending and only the judges in both suits being capable of delivering an up-or-down answer to the litany of issues presented, the uncertainty over what type of delays Seattle could face and what type of mitigation will be needed to preserve other parties’ rights are huge question marks.

On the other side, it’s Johnson’s track record of delivering on promises to the NBA that has insiders optimistic about Sacramento’s chances of delivering that ‘fair and competitive’ offer that will include a significant public subsidy and downtown arena.

That effort has been underway for a while now, as the NBA negotiated the current arena deal that the Maloofs backed out of, a deal that Johnson and Sacramento have maintained is still on the table.

Additionally, proposed arena locations in Sacramento aren’t likely to have the same types of blowback being faced in Seattle, where their sizable maritime industrial economy feels threatened by Hansen’s proposal.

One source with intimate knowledge of the situation speaking to PBT under conditions of anonymity spoke about Sacramento’s pair of proposed locations:

“Both potential Sacramento sites are complimentary to the existing downtown commercial uses, and unlike the fight in Seattle the downtown proposals are being welcomed as a revitalization project. Both are efficient reuses of developed property, and both sites qualify under the expedited state AB 900 CEQA process, which limits the delay from any potential lawsuits. Having already approved a deal structure a year ago with no lawsuits filed, Sacramento has a big advantage to deliver a timely arena facility.”

That AB 900 CEQA process is an interesting wrinkle to Sacramento’s effort to keep their team, as the bill creating that process was recently signed into law and co-authored by Think Big Sacramento supporter and California Senate President pro Tem Dan Steinberg. According to law firm Stoel and Rives:

“The (bill provides) an incentive for applicants to move forward with their projects because any challenge to a leadership project Environmental Impact Report (“EIR”) under the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) will be venued immediately in the Court of Appeal. The court will then have a maximum of 175 days to issue its decision on the challenged EIR”

Incidentally, the bill was passed in part to help facilitate the potential Farmer’s Field deal to bring NFL football back to L.A. The company driving that proposal is AEG, who is supporting Sacramento’s bid and being pursued for purchase by Ron Burkle, who is one of the ‘whales’ that reportedly stands behind Sacramento’s offer.

“It’s time for big thinking and big projects that put Californians back to work,” said California Governor Brown. “Projects like Farmers Field can create thousands of jobs during a tough economic time, so it is imperative for the state to cut the red tape that could delay projects like this for years. These bills strike the right balance between protecting our environment and kick-starting jobs and investment in California.”

Sources say NBA owners will be weighing the totality of the arena timelines for both sides, and in Seattle’s case how many years a potential Sonics team will have to play at Key Arena, a facility deemed by the NBA to not meet its standards when the Sonics left for Oklahoma City in 2008.

Hansen’s current plan calls for a potential Sonics team to play in Key Arena (with modest improvements) for as little as two years, while arena opponents believe that timeframe could be extended to as many as four years if lawsuits hold up the process. While Sacramento could face similar lawsuits, they didn’t face any during the 2011 arena deal, and the expedited review process and potential for less environmental concerns at the city’s proposed sites have sources pointing at the issue as a point in favor of Kevin Johnson’s expected proposal.

While Seattle’s lawsuits aren’t likely to be the defining factor in this saga – Sacramento’s production of an actionable offer will be that factor –the fact that the Emerald City can’t say with certainly how long they’ll be locked up at Key Arena could be the starting point for their bid to take the Kings to unravel.

History of public subsidy support could be key issue in Sacramento Kings’ future

kj stern hugging

It’s no secret that public funds for arenas make the NBA world go round.

Seattle lost their Sonics because politicians did not want to play ball, right or wrong, and to top matters off they openly admonished David Stern and the NBA during the critical days and months that determined the Sonics’ fate.

The past behavior of Seattle politicians is not expected to be a defining factor in the league’s assessment of the two cities’ competing proposals.  However, an exchange between Stern and a Seattle reporter didn’t do much to quell any doubts.

When asked about whether or not he regretted the way the NBA left five years ago and if it would impact the league’s decision-making, Stern interrupted the reporter with visible irritation:

“Actually, no, it does not impact anything. This is being done by the book. I seem to remember, and correct me if I’m wrong, but there was $300 million-plus subsidy for the Mariners and $300 million-plus subsidy for the Seahawks. But there was legislation that precluded that for the Sonics. Speaker (of the House of Representatives Frank) Chopp said we should take the money from our players. Is there anything that I’m missing there? History is being rewritten in a way that your question gives me an opportunity to set the record straight.”

This strikes a stark contrast with the way Sacramento has worked with the NBA to secure public funds for an arena.  There is no doubt about the effort they made to get an arena deal done in 2011, working side by side with Stern and relocation committee head Clay Bennett to bring together $255 million in public funds for what league sources called a “model offer.”

When asked about Sacramento’s ability to extend their current offer of public funds from the last deal negotiated by the NBA, sources say Kevin Johnson’s strong support in the Sacramento city council last year is likely to continue this year.  The Sacramento City Council passed a 7-2 vote in favor of a symbolic resolution supporting the NBA on Tuesday.

Seattle and King County have also offered up to $120-145 million toward the creation of an NBA-only facility.

Stern has been careful to applaud Sacramento’s efforts in the public numerous times, most recently reminding reporters in Minnesota, “The mayor of Sacramento has advised that he will be back to us soon with a proposal from a group to buy the team in Sacramento and build a building in Sacramento with a substantial subsidy from the city of Sacramento.”

The league and its players have enjoyed over $3 billion in public funds for new arenas since 1990 and sources tell PBT on the condition of anonymity that the league is sensitive to what a move out of Sacramento could do to future subsidy collection efforts by the NBA.

Any additional ammunition given to public subsidy opponents could impact the league’s bottom line much more than what owners would proportionately receive in a relocation fee, which some have guessed to be in the $30-45 million dollar range.  The fee can be anything the league wants, and can be as high as the most recent franchise fee or franchise sale amount according to legal scholars at Loyola Marymount.

Sources tell PBT that a prohibitive relocation fee would only be sought by the league if it wanted to exert financial pressure against the Seattle deal, and that there has been zero talk of doing that at this time.

Should Sacramento produce the ‘fair and competitive offer’ sources expect before March 1, the league will be facing an unprecedented decision.  Never before has an NBA city shown strong support for a team, provided a “model offer” of public funds for a new arena and then lost their team.

With opposition of public subsidies for sports facilities growing every day, sources say the league wants to avoid a situation in which Sacramento provides a “model offer” only to have their team taken away.  This would send a message to future cities that their long-term investments in the NBA are not safe, even if the city does everything reasonably expected of them.

So even though the league probably won’t hold Seattle’s history against them, the fact that Sacramento has done everything that could ever be expected of them will be a point in their favor.

David Stern sets the stage for final leg of the Sacramento Kings saga

NBA Commissioner David Stern listens at a news conference before the All Star slam dunk competition during the NBA basketball All-Star weekend in Houston

There is a lot to understand when it comes to the potential sale of Sacramento Kings.  As NBA commissioner David Stern laid out Saturday, the 29 owners deciding the Kings’ future home face a complex story involving a great ownership group in Seattle and a compelling story out of Sacramento.

Seattle’s ownership group already has executed a contract to buy the Kings from the Maloof family. If Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson produces a “fair and competitive” offer – including a significant public subsidy for a new arena – it would potentially give the owners two viable options.

A sale agreement would need to be approved by a three-quarters vote of NBA owners. A relocation approval must pass with a majority vote. Both issues are intertwined, as Stern has combined both relocation and finance committees to review the matter with a vote likely occurring at the Board of Governors meeting in mid-April.

The Maloofs have already filed for relocation to Seattle, and despite reports out of Seattle that the deal has already been vetted Stern said on Saturday that the committees are still reviewing the sale and relocation bid.

Early reports mirrored the efforts of the Seattle group to portray an NBA decision to allow the Kings to move to Seattle as a done deal.  Sources have told PBT that Sacramento would be given a real chance to produce a ‘fair and competitive’ offer to keep the team in California’s capitol.

Stern’s comments have echoed that sentiment leading up to this week, and on Saturday he said it was “plausible” that the Kings remain in Sacramento, and that a decision would be made on a number of criteria but that “economics” would not be the lone factor. Stern’s comments are rooted in the multitude of issues that will play a role in the BOG’s decision-making that aren’t tied to franchise price, but overlook the “economics” factor.

“I don’t think it’s a bidding war….” Stern said last week. “There’s a series of issues that are defined by our constitution that have to be considered. One of the things that our board is mandated to consider is the support for the team in the prior city. So there are real issues for the board to consider, about the buildings, about the likelihood they will be built, about the support from the cities.”

Stern also addressed the idea of expansion on Saturday, an idea that would give the league a potential out to keep both cities and potential ownership groups happy.

“I don’t see any scenario where both cities are happy….” Stern said. “There’s a large group of owners who believe that expansion as an economic matter; is a neutral thing. At least the way we’ve done it to date, you get a lot of money in and in return for that you cut the new team in for a large and growing source of revenue from national TV, national licensing, and all things international and digital. And then it doesn’t really seem to make that much additional sense as the increased revenue that demands to the gross (basketball-related income) and increased each player costs and the like.

“So it has to be parsed and analyzed but right now given that we’ve just come through an intriguing collective bargaining negotiation and coupled it with specific revenue sharing, over $200 million, I think the sentiment is to let it all settle and assess how we are doing and what the projections are for how we’ll do.”

Multiple sources told PBT that even if expansion were a possibility that it would be extremely unlikely for the league to express support for it.

This will continue as a two-city race for one team to be decided by the Board of Governors in the coming months.

Sources: “Mega-Whales” Ron Burkle and Mark Mastrov in serious talks with Sacramento

Ron Burkle2

There aren’t a lot of people willing to give Sacramento much of a fighting chance to hold on to the Kings, but they’re not going down without a big money fight.

Sources familiar with the situation tell ProBasketballTalk that “mega whales” Ron Burkle and Mark Mastrov are in serious talks with the city of Sacramento to collaborate on a bid to buy the Kings and keep them in California’s capitol.

Additionally, sources report that there is no shortage of bidders as at least five groups have approached the city and have NBA-level credentials.

Burkle famously was interested in buying the Kings from the Maloofs when they filed for relocation in 2011, but was rebuffed by the family in an emotional response.

From Sacramento’s perspective, the combination of Burkle and Mastrov would be an extremely compelling group to present to the NBA’s Board of Governors, and is being called a “dream team” by those close to the negotiations. Burkle, a billionaire, has transformed the Pittsburgh Penguins into a model NHL franchise and was coveted by Commissioner David Stern, who excitedly told Kevin Johnson last year, “You’ve got Burkle?” Mastrov founded the 24 Hour Fitness chain and finished second in a recent bid to purchase the Warriors, ahead of billionaire Larry Ellison.

Both owners would work with the city of Sacramento using a model of last year’s arena plan that was negotiated and agreed upon by David Stern and AEG. Sources say that their interest is derived from Sacramento’s burgeoning basketball marketplace, a market they has been evaluated in talks to be a top-5 NBA market when one factors in the lack of other sports competition.

Hanging over the situation is the fact that the NBA has received over $3 billion in public subsidy money for arenas since 1990, and sources with knowledge of the situation maintain that Sacramento’s current “model offer” of public funds will not go unrecognized by the NBA’s Board of Governors. Aside from a public relations nightmare similar to that of Sonicsgate, the league’s ability to secure future funds from cities could be threatened if Sacramento is abandoned for Seattle. Yahoo! Sports and CSN Bay Area have reported that the Board of Governors has already made up their minds to support a move to Seattle, but sources speaking to PBT on the condition of anonymity don’t see it that way.

The Sacramento Bee and USA Today were first to report these developments.

New report suggests financial, ethical issues at NBA players union

NBPA Meet To Discuss Current CBA Offer

UPDATE 6:39 pm: Union Executive Director Billy Hunter released a statement. What you think of it pretty much describes what you think of Hunter. Here it is in its entirety:

“The NBPA is currently reviewing the full independent special report simultaneous with the public. While I strongly disagree with some of the findings contained in the report, I am pleased it recognized that I have not engaged in criminal acts nor was I involved in misappropriation of union funds. Regarding my contract — my third in a long tenure of the organization — it was ratified by the NBPA Executive Committee and signed by President Derek Fisher. I believe the contract and extensions are valid. I am pleased to discuss with the Player Representative board any concerns about my contract.

“In my work for the NBPA, my priority has always been to promote the interests of the players. Through the benefit of hindsight, as with any executive, there are always things that could have been done better. But on the major issue, I am pleased that this report has confirmed what I have always known and said, I did nothing illegal.

“During my tenure, the salaries of NBA players have more than doubled and they are the highest paid athletes in the world. When I arrived at the NBPA in 1996 the challenges were significant. The Union’s financial liabilities exceeded its assets. Today the Union is solvent and its financial future is secure. The Union and players endured two lengthy and costly lockouts. Our greatest accomplishment is the unity and solidarity that the players maintained throughout those very difficult rounds of bargaining.

“Prior to the report’s issuance, the NBPA began implementation of some of the recommendations suggested, including a revised hiring policy and a new anti-nepotism policy. I look forward to continuing my work with the NBPA, adopting additional recommendations from the report and opening a new chapter of NBPA governance. I believe through these steps the NBPA will emerge from this review a stronger organization and continue to meet the needs of its membership. I will be reaching out to the membership to discuss the report and address ways to pursue the best path forward for the NBPA.”

3:47 pm: During the NBA lockout there was clearly a divide within the National Basketball Players Association (the NBA players union) — it was sort of “are you with executive director Billy Hunter or not?”

The lockout ending didn’t end the dispute. On Thursday the results of an investigation into the union raised a lot of questions about how the union does business. That includes Hunter’s own $15 million contract not going through the proper approval process.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports and the NBC Sports Network has the details on what the report by the firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison found. For the record they found no criminal issues with the union, but a whole lot of red flags on other issues saying Hunter put personal issues and interests ahead of the players and the union.

As previously reported by Yahoo! Sports, Hunter “never told the union’s executive committee or player representatives that his current employment contract, which was executed in 2010, was not properly approved under the union’s By-Laws, even though by at least November 2011 outside counsel to the Union had told Mr. Hunter that the necessary approval had not occurred and remained necessary.”

• As detailed in an April report by Y! Sports, Hunter “involved family and friends in union business as employees or vendors without full disclosure and the disinterested approval of the union’s officers and directors.”

• “Created an atmosphere at the NBPA that discouraged challenges to his authority, including by allowing the union’s former general counsel, Gary Hall, to stop former secretary-treasurer Pat Garrity from speaking freely about conflicts of interest to the executive committee.”

So, he acted like every other executive in a suit in New York.

Hunter, no doubt, will challenge all the claims made. I’m not going to guess who is right and who is wrong. In a lot of ways this is a power struggle so everything is spin.

The real question is what is next. The union as a whole is scheduled to meet All-Star Weekend in Houston, you can bet this comes up. Is it time for a change in leadership at the union? If so, what direction do they go? Or, is it better to let Hunter stay and try to clean up issues.

Why it matters to fans is this — in five years you can bet one side is going to opt out of the Collective Bargaining Agreement that was just formalized and signed more than a year ago. Who sits at the negotiating table when that happens matters. For the owners it will be Adam Silver, the current deputy commissioner tagged to take over the big chair when David Stern steps down in 2014.

Who sits in the chair for the players union (along with economic and other factors) will determine whether things get resolved or if the NBA goes the way of the NHL with its labor fights.