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sonicsarena1Seattle’s new arena could put a new meaning to the so-called cheap seats.

A few weeks after the initial renderings of the city’s potential new arena were released, the Seattle investment group led by Chris Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer just posted some more preliminary photos today.


The new set shows off the “Sonic Rings,” a proposed 2,000-seat upper seating level featuring three stacked balconies that slant inward as they go higher. Advantages of this unique area include improved viewing angles, increased energy and a more sustainable building due to the reduced roof space.

Hansen expanded on the seating area today, writing that each level can be open or closed depending on the event. The photo directly above is what the Rings look like closed off.

But what’s really cool is how they look when they’re open.

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Here’s what Hansen wrote about the atmosphere of the Sonic Rings:

As many sporting fans would attest, it’s a little tougher to drag ourselves out to a game in this era of HDTV and the fun and casual experience offered by bars, restaurants, and even our own homes. With this in mind, we have tried to create a unique game-watching experience that combines a fun, social environment with stellar viewing angles not offered in any other arena upper deck.

In addition to what is shown in the pictures here, we also plan on having several different themes on each ring, ranging from sports bar style environments and areas dedicated to “super fans” craving few distractions, to family-themed areas catering to young Sonics fans that still have a hard time sitting in their seats for two hours.

The arena project received preliminary approval earlier this month from the Seattle Downtown Design Review Board and is now on the permitting stage. The group can now apply for a master-use permit, which could be issued in November. The two-year construction project is set to begin May 2014.

But before that happens, the NBA needs to return to Seattle.

Hansen and Ballmer are leading a Seattle group that reached an agreement with the Maloof family in January to buy 65 percent of the Sacramento Kings for a reported $341 million. The group has already put down a $30 million non-refundable deposit and has requested for the team to play at KeyArena for two seasons before moving into the new SoDo arena in 2015.

But now Sacramento is fighting back, and two tech titans from the Valley have stepped up with more money less than a month before the NBA makes its decision to block the Seattle group’s bid to bring basketball back to the Emerald City or leave the standing deal intact.

Earlier this week, Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson announced that San Diego-based Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs has joined the group of investors trying to keep the Kings in town.

This news comes just one week after software giant TIBCO CEO Vivek Ranadive announced his involvement. The two CEOs join a pair of other investors from California — Ron Burkle, a Los Angeles businessman, and Mark Mastrov, founder of 24 Hour Fitness — that will try to block Seattle from acquiring its team.

Johnson Tweeted this about the “whale” investors group:

But here’s the thing. The Ballmer group has already reached an agreement with the current owners and even put down the $30 million non-refundable deposit.

Plus, Seattle got some good news when Kings minority owner Bob Cook sold his 7 percent share to Hansen on Wednesday. Though it’s important to keep in mind that the other current limited Kings owners have a chance to match Hansen’s offer in 15 days.

Steve Ballmer.

The Sacramento squad will need to convince a group of NBA owners to stop the Seattle deal when everyone meets on April 3. They have a few things going for them with the new investor money and a new arena deal that was approved Tuesday night. But the owners haven’t been known to block team sales like this very often.

Both parties will reconvene in front of the full NBA Board of Governors at its annual meeting April 18-19 when the official vote happens. That’s when we’ll officially know if the NBA is coming back to Seattle or not.

NBA Commissioner David Stern had given Johnson a March 1 deadline to come up with an ownership group that would counter the Hansen/Ballmer offer and convince the NBA to keep the Kings in Sacramento.

Johnson did that on February 28, announcing Burkle’s and Mastrov’s participation. One week later, Stern said publicly that the Sacramento bid was far too low in comparison with what Hansen and Ballmer were offering.

But now the addition of Jacobs and Ranadive will help Sacramento. Still, if Hansen and Ballmer can get a three-quarters supermajority approval from the board next month, the Sonics will be back in Seattle.

In terms of Ballmer’s involvement with all this, reports came out in June that the Microsoft CEO was part of the investment group with Hansen. It’s not surprising: Ballmer was a regular at Sonics games before the team departed for Oklahoma City in 2008 and also was part of another investment group that tried to keep the team here. Seattle has been without a team since then.

Two months ago, in what was clearly a grandstanding move, California Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinburg sent a letter to the California Department of General Services, citing Ballmer’s involvement in the Kings deal and asking for details of Microsoft’s contracts with the state.

Previously on GeekWire: Seattle’s new arena might look like a supersonic jet engine

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