A new path to bring an arena -- and potentially the NHL -- to the Seattle area is opening.
RLB Holdings Sports and Entertainment filed a zoning code interpretation request with the city of Tukwila, Washington, stating its intention to build a multipurpose arena, the city confirmed Monday. On May 1, the group will file a SEPA application, another step closer to getting a shovel in the ground.
If progress continues, the early target date to open the privately funded arena in Tukwila, which is just south of Seattle, is the fall of 2017.
Ray Bartoszek, a former oil trader and co-founder of RLB Holdings, is spearheading the effort, shifting his focus to building a Tukwila arena after plans to buy the Arizona Coyotes and move them to Seattle fell through in 2013. He has partnered with basketball Hall of Famer Bill Russell, former Seattle SuperSonics captain Fred Brown and former MulvannyG2 CEO Jerry Lee -- instrumental in land acquisition -- to bring an arena to the Seattle area.
"This is the very early stage," Bartoszek said when reached by ESPN.com. "It's a routine request in the early stages of a potential real estate project."
The city of Tukwila said in a statement Monday that it was reviewing the zoning code letter and emphasized that -- while supportive of building a multipurpose arena -- "there are many steps ahead for this project."
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has consistently stated that Seattle would be a strong hockey market and that its biggest hurdle is the lack of an arena. He's stressed that the league is not in a formal expansion process and that the NHL Board of Governors will make the final decision regarding expansion plans.
According to an NHL source, Bettman has met with the Bartoszek group multiple times about landing an NHL team. The most recent meeting was in New York, earlier this month.
"There's no doubt [Bartoszek] is a substantial, smart person who is passionate about the game," Bettman told ESPN.com. "We're having conversations to the extent that the interested parties want to talk to us. It hasn't gotten beyond that."
When asked about where things stood on the possibility of landing an NHL team, Bartoszek said it was premature to comment.
"It's far too early for any discussion about sports," he said.
The proposed Tukwila arena site is immediately off Exit 1 of Interstate 405, east of the West Valley Highway near the Sounder station, providing for both highway and light rail access. It is roughly a 10- to 15-minute drive from downtown Seattle and near the Seattle airport.
Chris Hansen's efforts to build a downtown Seattle arena have stalled, opening the door for other options. Bettman declined to label the Bartoszek group the front-runner for Seattle expansion simply because there currently are no formal plans by the NHL to expand.
That could change in June when the Board of Governors meets in Las Vegas. According to an NHL source, Bettman is expected to update the board on where the Las Vegas season-ticket drive stands as well as the latest developments of Bartoszek's group in Seattle.
If enough progress has been made on both fronts, the next step would be a vote from the board to formalize the NHL's expansion process -- which could now involve two teams -- this summer.