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Microsoft CEO joins investment group for proposed new arena, possible NBA franchise

Billionaire Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO, has bolstered a local group
Billionaire Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO, has bolstered a local group's fortunes in possibly bringing pro basketball back to Seattle with a proposed new arena.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

BY BILL CHRISTIANSON
bchristianson@redmond-reporter.com

Steve Ballmer, the CEO of Redmond-based technology giant Microsoft, Corp., is part of an investment group looking to build a new sports arena and bring an NBA franchise back to Seattle, San Francisco hedge fund manager Chris Hansen announced Wednesday morning.

Peter and Erik Nordstrom, members of the prominent Seattle family that formerly owned the Seattle Seahawks, have also agreed to join the arena investment group, according to a letter sent Wednesday by Hanson to Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and King County Executive Dow Constantine. Hanson also made the announcement on a KJR 950 AM morning radio program Wednesday morning.

Ballmer's involvement in Hansen's investment group is not a surprise as he was part of a group that made a last-minute effort to try to keep the Sonics in Seattle before they moved to Oklahoma City in 2008. Before the Sonics left town, Ballmer teamed with a few other prominent regional businessmen to offer $150 million for a renovation of KeyArena. Now Ballmer, whose net worth is $15.7 billion according to forbes.com, plans to help fund a $490 million area proposal that would house an NBA franchise and possibly an NHL team.

"These three gentlemen, like me, are committed to operating the arena and NBA franchise in a way that represents and upholds the values of our community," Hansen wrote in the letter. "They appreciate the role the Sonics played in this community for more than 40 years and see this project as an opportunity to bring that civic asset back to our community. ... Their participation in the ownership group brings added assurances the business will always be backed by strong local hands and reinforces my commitment that the team will never again leave Seattle."

The letter stated that Hansen's investment group is not yet fully assembled, but that these three deep-pocket businessmen have agreed to come forward at this time.

"Given the intense community interest and requests from city and county councils, three members of my investment group have agreed to come forward at this time," Hansen stated.

Hansen declined to go into details of his investment group arrangement during his interview on the Mitch in the Morning show Wednesday morning, but confirmed that he would be the majority stakeholder if an NBA team came to town.

Hansen is proposing to build a new stadium in the SoDo area of downtown Seattle with about $290 million in private investment from his group and up to $200 million from public bonds. That public portion would be repaid through taxes and revenues from the new arena.

Both Constantine and McGinn support the idea of bringing a team back to Seattle and both have reached a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Hansen. Both the Seattle and King County councils must approve the MOU before the project can move forward. A vote is expected to come later this summer, according to an article by the Associated Press.

Constantine released a statement expressing his pleasure upon learning the names of Hansen's partners in the arena proposal.

"The names of Steve Ballmer and Peter and Erik Nordstrom add additional strength and credibility to this proposal, and even greater assurance of the financial stability of the investment team that is working to bring the Sonics back to Seattle," Constantine said in his statement. "Mr. Ballmer stepped up with unprecedented generosity in the effort to keep the Sonics in town. He's stepping up again to bring them back."

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Steve Ballmer forbes.com bio

• Age:56

• Net worth: $15.7 billion as of March, 2012

• Source of Wealth: Microsoft, self-made

• Total pay, including bonuses, for 2011: $1,376,915

• Residence: Hunts Point, Wash.

• Education: Bachelor of Arts/Science, Harvard University; Drop Out, Stanford University

• Marital Status: Married

• Children: 3

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