New twists and turns in Seattle sports arena proposal

SEATTLE - Days after officials unveiled a proposal for a new Seattle sports arena capable of hosting pro basketball and hockey teams, twists and turns already are developing that could affect the plan's fate.

Conflicting reports out of Phoenix say the Coyotes NHL hockey team could be purchased by a group of investors in Arizona - meaning Seattle could lose out on the team moving here.

But the National Hockey League, which owns the Coyotes, has a contractual right to explore relocation options. So far, the NHL has not officially explored relocation alternatives, and league officials have been steadfast in their support of Phoenix.

At the same time, however, the NHL knows that other cities, including Seattle, are eyeing the team. And Seattle's proposal for a venue pairing an NHL franchise with an NBA team has a kind of unique appeal.

Meanwhile, the success of the Everett Silvertips hockey club shows just how popular the sport is in the Puget Sound region.

Fans come from miles around to cheer the team, a member of the Western Hockey League. One of those fans is Leanne Luft of Bellingham, who brings her family to the games.

"We came last night and were supposed to go to dinner tonight, and we cancelled those plans to come back here," she says. "We're a good hockey family."

Luft and her family are exactly the sort of fans that could make a Seattle team thrive.

"If you've got a winner, they will come," says Zoran Rajcic, the Silvertips' assistant general manager. He sees near sell-out crowds of around 8,000 a night at Comcast Arena in Everett.

To replicate this success, a Seattle arena would need nearly double that turnout. And it might need fans from Bellingham and beyond to make the trek.

"They're still going to need a team that's competitive, that the community can embrace and really want to follow," says Rajcic.

But before that first goal is scored in any new Seattle arena, the fans have to get there - and that could be a problem.

The proposed arena site in Seattle's SoDo district is a patchwork of the existing stadiums and narrow streets. Backups would be chaotic if two teams play the same day.

And there are still no answers on how that problem is solved.

Seattle Mariners executives even got caught up in a little controversy over the traffic impact this week. A memo leaked to the Seattle Times worried very strongly about the traffic problems that could come from another venue near Safeco and CenturyLink fields.

Savvy game scheduling could help, but rapid transit may play a bigger role, officials say.

Meanwhile, excitement continues to build about the possibilities.

"If a team has to move, I think this'd be a great area to move," says San Jose Sharks scout Pat Funk, who was in Everett on Saturday for a Silvertips game.