The mayor’s street vacation plan also calls for coordinating public and private parking operators “to develop rates that discourage single occupant vehicles.”
THE Seattle City Council must take further steps to protect public interest before giving up precious roadway for an NBA arena with no team in sight.
The city is preparing to vacate a block of Occidental Avenue South, as part of a questionable deal to finance a $490 million stadium in the Sodo industrial area.
The street bisects property that arena developer Chris Hansen secured between Safeco Field’s garage and the Krispy Kreme franchise one block south. His plans call for an arena straddling Occidental.
Seattle’s deal with Hansen is contingent on him securing an NBA team, which appears unlikely to happen before the agreement expires in 2017.
At that point, the city’s best option to lure NBA and NHL teams might be to renovate Key-Arena. That plan was dismissed in the past, but a recent study found that it would cost far less than a new arena.
Intriguing proposals have also been floated for arenas elsewhere in the region, such as Tukwila. But alternatives won’t get traction as long as Seattle continues shuffling forward on the Hansen deal.
The latest turn of the screw came Monday when Mayor Ed Murray’s office presented the Occidental street vacation proposal to the council. Deliberation could begin in January, giving new council members a chance to show that they’re bringing fresh perspective.
In recommending the street vacation, city staff gave short shrift to concerns by the Port of Seattle and others about how the project will increase congestion on streets already maxed out at peak periods, further limiting commuter and freight mobility.
Given the arena’s uncertainty, the council should make the Occidental street vacation conditional until a team is secured. That would apply the same level of protection that’s written into the city’s overall agreement with Hansen.
This block of Occidental is not a forlorn patch of asphalt. It’s nearly an acre of valuable public property with zoning to allow a five-story building. The council should require the land revert to a public street if the arena isn’t built as planned.
After all, the Occidental block handles 3,700 cars a day, including commuters and overflow traffic between Sodo and interstates 90 and 5. It feeds the Edgar Martinez Drive freeway ramps, on which the public spent more than $80 million to increase local traffic capacity.
The street vacation is also linked to other street changes planned for the area. They include narrowing First Avenue South, extending sidewalks into street space now used for parking, to accommodate “street furniture” such as benches and bike racks. Other elements of the proposal demonstrate City Hall’s indifference to the vast majority of people in the region who travel by car.
One way the city plans to mitigate arena traffic congestion is to maximize parking costs, as if they aren’t already high enough near the stadiums. Murray’s street-vacation recommendation calls for coordinating public and private parking operators “to develop rates that discourage single occupant vehicles … reserved parking associated with the Arena should be priced as high as practical.” That would have a negligible effect on congestion but cause definite harm to people who will travel from afar to the arena, mostly at night, with limited options besides driving.
Giving up street right of way is an extraordinary action. Before doing so, the City Council must consider whether the public truly benefits.
The council must address numerous concerns about traffic and the arena project and not simply rubber-stamp the proposal.