Eleven years ago, after the Seattle City Council voted unanimously to rebuild the city's arena for the Sonics, city officials high-fived with the team's brass in the hallway. They said it was...
Eleven years ago, after the Seattle City Council voted unanimously to rebuild the city’s arena for the Sonics, city officials high-fived with the team’s brass in the hallway.
They said it was a public-private partnership in which everyone wins: the pro-basketball team, the taxpayers, the economy, Seattle sports fans.
One watchdog named Jordan Brower didn’t buy it. People called him a crank.
He predicted Sonics’ revenue wouldn’t cover the debt for the $74 million renovation. Taxpayers would have to clean up the mess, he groused.
Guess who turned out to be right: the high-fiving officials or the crank?
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I bring this up because in January some of these same high-fiving officials will ask the state for up to $240 million to bail out the Sonics and the city.
About $180 million is to rebuild the arena — again. It’s only 9 years old, yet the team says it’s too small.
The rest is to pay off the $58 million debt left from that “win-win” 1994 deal. As predicted, Sonics’ revenues have fallen well short of covering the payments, leaving taxpayers to make up the difference.
So it was a bad deal, for both sides. The team got an arena that was immediately obsolete. We got a sackful of IOUs.
What’s most irksome now is that neither the team nor the city is offering to spend a penny to correct the mistake.
Their plan is to try to tap into King County hotel and sales taxes in 2020, once we’re done paying off our baseball and football stadiums.
The Sonics would wriggle out of a bad deal and also get a new home, free of charge (they say they’ve invested heavily in the arena already).
As for the public, instead of owing $58 million, we’d be on the hook for $240 million. That’s on top of what we already owe for Safeco Field, Qwest Field and the Kingdome. That’s right — they’re asking for more, and we aren’t even done paying for a stadium we blew up in 2000.
Some news last week from New Jersey suggests there might be a better way.
The New York Giants offered to build a $700 million stadium on state land, at no cost to taxpayers. In return, the football team would get all revenues from any stadium event.
What if we gave the city-owned KeyArena to the Sonics? (We’d keep the land.) They could remodel it at their expense. The Sonics would get all revenue from sports, concerts and other events, instead of sending a cut to the city.
With this one-time gift the city could get out of the arena and sports businesses, maybe forever.
Seattle Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis says the idea’s intriguing.
“If we could figure out a way for the city to step aside, we’d be very open to that,” he said.
Sonics’ brass say they’re not sure it would pencil out, though mostly they just want out of their burdensome lease.
A sticking point: Who pays the arena’s $58 million debt?
Call me a crank, but I’d guess we’ll have to pay all of it. And the way this is going, if that’s all we pay we’ll be lucky.
Reach Danny Westneat at 206-464-2086 or firstname.lastname@example.org