THE desire to build a Sodo stadium area like L.A. Live overlooks a few differences, beyond the weather.
L.A. Live, the entertainment development around Staples Center, is more than 20 miles removed from the nearest marine cargo terminal, as well as the truck traffic that goes along with it. In Sodo, Safeco Field is barely a tobacco juice loogie away from Terminal 46, one of the premiere marine terminals on the West Coast.
L.A. Live includes no railroad yard. Sodo is divided and barricaded by them.
L.A. Live is served by a functional, traditional street grid. Sodo grid? Let us know if you ever find one. East-west roads are few and far between, and often blocked by train traffic.
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A Seattle Times article quoted Fred Mendoza, a Normandy Park attorney who represented the state’s Public Stadium Authority, regarding Sodo traffic challenges:
“Blaming the (existing) stadiums, or even the new arena, avoids the real discussion of how to improve the streets. It’s a huge expense, but we can’t continue to ignore the problem.”
Mendoza is right — as far as he goes. But the problem is not just the lack of hugely expensive street improvements. Other basic, highly expensive infrastructure is missing. Lack of drainage creates mud puddles in Sodo the size of fish ponds whenever it rains. Abandoned railroad lines are obstacles for pedestrians.
The hyperextended super blocks aligned with the rail yards create long distances to cross for event patrons — not a bad thing in good weather, but not much fun when it is cold, rainy, windy and dark.
You might want to believe that huge sums will be invested to finally make up for Sodo’s defects, but if you believe that I would like to offer you some stock in the Lander Street Overpass.
City, county, state and federal plans for the first two Sodo stadiums were predicated on construction of three new overpasses to help commercial traffic get around the new sports facilities. Only one, at Edgar Martinez Way, was built as planned.
The second, at Royal Brougham, was scaled back by urban stylists to create a structure known as “The Pigtail.” Originally funded to help move freight, the Pigtail is so convoluted the city prohibits truck drivers from using it if they are driving south from downtown on Fourth Avenue.
The third overpass was at Lander Street. It’s not there. City leaders used the startup funds to instead support the Mercer Street project in South Lake Union.
It’s not wise to expect new outcomes from the same behavior. A third Sodo sports arena will stimulate the surrounding neighborhood about as much as the first two did. You don’t need to visit L.A. to figure that out.
City officials may celebrate the concept of a Sodo stadium entertainment district, but history shows that when the headlines fade, they find better places to invest city funds.
But it’s often helpful to follow the money, and that’s true in the case of the Lander funds that were redirected to Mercer Street.
Mercer goes to Seattle Center and a surrounding retail neighborhood that, like L.A. Live, includes no marine terminals, related cargo-truck traffic, railroad yards or outsized mud puddles. In fact, the urban amenities are excellent. The weather is the same as in Sodo, but the retail business community around Seattle Center thrived with the Seattle SuperSonics for 40 years, rain or shine.
City officials say they will fully consider Seattle Center as an alternative site in their continued review of the third Sodo arena. Let’s hope they do. The constructive foundations of L.A. Live show that they must.
Dave Gering is executive director of the Manufacturing Industrial Council of Seattle.