Something special is happening in Las Vegas.
People have flocked to a new arena on the Strip to watch the expansion Vegas Golden Knights get off to an historic start in their inaugural National Hockey League season.
Even if it’s the honeymoon period for a new franchise in a city making its first foray into professional sports, it’s hard not to watch from Seattle with some level of envy.
It’s been a decade — yes, a decade — since the Sonics began their final season at KeyArena. And for each of the winters ever since, the venue has sat relatively quiet, save for a few big-time concerts and Seattle University men’s basketball. That’s not to discount either, but there’s no denying that it’s not quite the same as having a professional franchise to follow during those dark December days.
Hopefully, not for much longer.
Last week, the City Council’s Select Committee on Civic Arenas voted 5-0 to send an amended version of the Memorandum of Understanding with the Oak View Group to redevelop the venue to the full council, with a vote expected Dec. 4.
It’s widely assumed that the NHL will expand once more in the near future to 32 franchises, and many believe the league wants that new team in its Western Conference for the sake of balance.
And as the 12th largest market in the country, Seattle stands out as the logical choice if a new arena is built. The OVG has already stated its intentions to pursue a team when the league officially opens the expansion process, with Hollywood film and TV producer Jerry Bruckheimer and investment banker David Bonderman introduced as partners back in June.
However, a new city has recently emerged as an NHL suitor. The new owner of the NBA’s Houston Rockets, Tilman Fertitta, has expressed strong interest in bringing hockey to the nation’s fourth largest city. That could present a problem, though Seattle’s status as the lone top-25 market to have neither an NHL nor NBA team could prove alluring to a league seeking an easier foothold.
To be clear, there are still concerns to be addressed between the city and OVG. In particular, the community benefits agreement — something noted by the Uptown Alliance in its letter to the city council late last month — must ensure a strong partnership between OVG and the surrounding stakeholders and that public needs are attended to.
But there is a clear opportunity to bring professional hockey to Seattle in the near future, a chance that could very well pass us by (again, as it did in the mid-1970s and early 1990s) if the arena proposal gets bogged down in the dreaded Seattle Process.
OVG has proven its financial wherewithal, and its commitment to the project. Now is the time to keep moving ahead.