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Group to submit expansion application for Seattle area

Connecticut investment banker Ray Bartoszek will submit a formal application to the NHL to acquire an expansion team for Tukwila, Wash., a source close to the negotiations has confirmed.

Bartoszek, 50, is heading a group looking to build a multi-purpose arena in the municipality just south of Seattle. A rival group headed by entrepreneur Chris Hansen also is planning an arena for Seattle’s Sodo District but has yet to reach a deal with a potential NHL owner to seek a team for that facility.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said last week that the league will begin accepting formal expansion bids July 6 and conclude that process by Aug. 10. The league does not expect any Seattle area bids to have their arena projects approved before next year but is looking for signs of completed financing and overall project viability.

Las Vegas is considered a frontrunner for expansion, given that it already is building a privately funded arena. But the league is expected to expand by at least two teams to address a 16-team to 14-team inequity in the Eastern and Western conferences.

Seattle could be the second expansion team if Bartoszek or Hansen can prove he has adequate financing and can get his arena project approved by early next year. A third group, looking at a Bellevue arena, has yet to declare itself publicly but continues to explore the viability of a project for that city.

Hansen has a deal with the city and King County that provides up to $200 million in bond funds if he can get an NBA team and NHL club together. The deal does not have any provision for an “NHL first” scenario, and Mayor Ed Murray has told Hansen his plan requires more private money if it’s for hockey initially.

Talks continue between Hansen and would-be NHL partner Victor Coleman over funding such a venture. A spokesman for Murray said last week that no deal between the two had been forwarded his office but expressed optimism that the NHL-imposed August deadline would expedite talks.

Murray is on record saying he could seek alternative arena locations if no hockey deal is reached in time to get an Sodo arena proposal approved.

As for Bartoszek, his group is undergoing an environmental-impact assessment of its project. On Monday the city of Tukwila published a report on the results of a 21-day open-comments process.

The city said most of the comments raised questions about potential traffic and aesthetic components of the proposed arena. Union Pacific Railroad raised points about its existing track running between the sites of the proposed arena and parking garage and “the importance of maintaining public safety near the tracks.”

The existing tracks and power lines are expected to be the key hurdle to overcome in a Tukwila process the city has pledged to “fast track” and try to complete by year’s end. If that happens, Bartoszek could get permission to build by early next year.