Businessman reportedly wants to build arena in Bellevue

The search for a new sports arena in the Puget Sound has reportedly headed east. Beyond Seattle’s Eastside, even, and all the way to Chicago.

Don Levin, an Illinois businessman and co-owner of a minor-league hockey team, has reportedly begun exploring arena possibilities in the area – specifically in Bellevue – with an eye toward bringing an NHL, and possibly an NBA, team. Two Seattle television stations reported Levin’s involvement.

The Seattle Times failed to reach Levin. David Grant, a spokesman for the Bellevue city manager’s office, said he had not heard anything about Levin and renewed talks for an Eastside sports arena.

“These rumors have been floating around for years,” Grant said.

The new factor is reportedly Levin. He owns the Chicago Wolves, a minor-league hockey franchise that debuted in 1994 and competes in the American Hockey League. Levin was in the running to purchase the Chicago Cubs when the Tribune company put the team up for sale in 2008.

Levin is a former Marine, and owns D.R.L. Enterprises, a Chicago-based holding company whose interests include tobacco processing, aircraft and medical equipment leasing, licensed sports product manufacturing and distribution and motion picture production and distribution.

The process of bringing an NHL or NBA team will likely depend upon the construction of a new arena, something that has been a question before the Seattle SuperSonics left town in 2008.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer led an investment group that expressed a desire to buy the Sonics in 2008 to keep the team from leaving. The group failed to attract sufficient public funding to finance a new arena. Ballmer spoke at a Rotary Luncheon earlier this week, stating that it’s essentially a real-estate challenge. He pegged a suitable arena solution costing between $300 million and $500 million.

“I’m sure we’ll someday wind up with that problem solved and with a basketball team back here in Seattle,” Ballmer said.

It might take more than just a basketball team, though. If an arena were to be privately financed, which might be necessary given the difficulties in getting public funding, many think it will take two big-league tenants to make it a viable business proposition.

Seattle has never had an NHL team, though in 1990 a group led by Barry Ackerley – then the Sonics owner – sought to acquire an expansion franchise, but withdrew its bid. KeyArena, which is where the Sonics played before moving, was not designed to meet NHL specs when it was renovated in the mid-1990s.

The Seattle Metropolitans – who played in the Pacific Coast Hockey Association from 1915-1924 – won the Stanley Cup in 1917 before the NHL was formed. They were the first American team to do so by beating the Montreal Canadians 3-1 in a best-of-5 series.

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