NHL in Seattle gains momentum thanks to new ownership, arena site

A "12th Man" flag, honoring Seattle Seahawks fans, flutters atop the Space Needle Friday, Jan. 16, 2015, in Seattle. The Seahawks play the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game on Sunday. The 25 foot by 35 foot flag will fly atop the 605 foot tall structure until Sunday evening and at night the structure will be lit up in the team colors of blue and green. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

“Most people don’t realize how close we were to actually getting an NHL team.” 

That was Mike McGinn, former mayor of Seattle, speaking to the Seattle Times last October. One year earlier, the Glendale City Council approved a lease agreement that kept the Phoenix Coyotes from potentially relocating.

That potential relocation site? Seattle, according to the Times:

Three sources with knowledge of negotiations confirm the Coyotes would have been bought by New York investment banker Ray Bartoszek and his partner Anthony Lanza and moved to Seattle as soon as the following day — playing up to three seasons at KeyArena — had the vote not passed.

Two sources with first-hand knowledge have confirmed New York investor Bartoszek had moving trucks on standby to relocate the team to Seattle. They say a Seattle financing specialist had helped Bartoszek line up local investors to own a small piece of the franchise.

The Coyotes didn’t move, but both Bartoszek and the National Hockey League didn’t give up their desire to have a team in Seattle. The issue, as always, was the arena: Chris Hansen’s group secured a site and funding from the city for a building that had an NBA tenant first. The deal would have to be amended for hockey. Seeing as how there are no current relocation options in the NBA, which also isn't looking to expand yet, the entire process has stalled. 

But what if an arena was built on another site?

Craig Custance of ESPN.com reports that Bartoszek’s group, RLB Holdings Sports and Entertainment, is looking at the city of Tukwila near Seattle to build an arena for an NHL expansion team.

From ESPN:

He has partnered with basketball Hall of Famer Bill Russell, former Seattle SuperSonics captain Fred Brown and former MulvannyG2 CEO Jerry Lee -- instrumental in land acquisition -- to bring an arena to the Seattle area."

This is the very early stage," Bartoszek said when reached by ESPN.com. "It's a routine request in the early stages of a potential real estate project."

… The proposed Tukwila arena site is immediately off Exit 1 of Highway 401, east of the West Valley Highway near the Sounder Station, providing for both highway and light rail access. It's roughly a 10- to 15-minute drive from downtown Seattle and near the Seattle airport.

That last bit is vital. After Sunrise, Glendale and Kanata, the NHL’s Board of Governors isn’t keen on arenas that aren’t centrally located within large cities. Hansen’s site would be the preference; but Tukwila could have much less red tape to cut in anticipation of expansion by 2017 or 2018.

From Chris Daniels of KING 5, a must follow on this story:

According to the Seattle Times in 2013, “Bartoszek is a resident of Greenwich, Conn. and graduated from the United States Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point in 1986. He made a fortune as an oil trader for Glencore International, a Switzerland-based giant commodities trader. His wife, Lydia, is a Seattle native.”

He’s a lifelong New York Mets fan who became part owner of the Yankees in 2011 after they failed to become minority owners of the Mets.

The NHL has continued to push behind the scenes to make Seattle work. Ideally, they’ll have two Western Conference expansion teams in Las Vegas and Seattle by the end of the decade. But in both situations, there’s a long road ahead to that end.