A new proposed deal with investor Chris Hansen for his proposed Sodo sports arena is intriguing, but not enough to overcome skepticism.
Changes negotiated by Seattle City Councilmembers Sally Clark, Tim Burgess and Mike O’Brien must be vetted with special attention to what most worries the public: long-term financial risks, transportation issues and economic impacts, especially for the Port of Seattle.
The council members deserve credit for transforming the conversation with a much-improved proposal that better protects taxpayers.
The revised deal moves $40 million of the $200 million of public financing to be covered by tax revenues and rents generated at the site into a transportation-improvement fund. What remedial infrastructure that might pay for is unclear, or how much of the traffic problem in the area might be resolved.
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The city also plans to ask the Port to match the $40 million — and then seek state and federal grants to solve traffic and freight-mobility issues.
Another $7 million would go into a fund for KeyArena to anticipate what might be needed at that site in the future. Do not overlook neighborhood economic impacts.
Doubts about the capacity of ArenaCo and other corporate entities involved in the deal to handle future financial obligations were supposedly settled with Hansen’s willingness to sign a personal guaranty. Feel better?
So much of this whole deal boils down to a sports and entertainment arena being plugged into an industrial area that is home to a deep-water port and busy shipping terminals.
The Port of Seattle’s link to 30,000 jobs in the region, and $3 billion in annual revenue are well-established.
The region’s economic capacity to absorb an NBA team and an NHL franchise is less well understood. The competition looms large for limited amounts of discretionary entertainment dollars and corporate sponsorships for luxury suites.
One of the significant improvements in this revised deal is that all financially binding decisions will come after economic and environmental reviews.
These will take time to complete and time to study.
Under the old talking points, all of the public money raised was funneled toward the needs and expectations of the investor group. The new version takes some of the public funds for related traffic needs and improvements. Public uses.
As the Seattle City Council moves toward a vote to proceed, each member must understand the commitment being made. The finances may not work out for Seattle taxpayers or the local economy. Respect the findings.
Likewise, the Metropolitan King County Council has a duty to heed the outcome of the environmental-impact-statement process and weigh the results for the entire region. The study might conclude that a different location is better.
The revised Sodo arena agreement is intriguing, but the process is far from over, and that is the best result of the refinements that encourage political interests to move ahead.