The Seattle City Council should reconsider its support for the Sodo arena before making an irreversible commitment to the troubled project.
SEATTLE and King County officials don’t need any more reasons to abandon plans for a costly sports arena for an NBA team that’s nowhere in sight.
Yet reasons keep piling up.
With new details emerging about how the public process was skewed to favor the Sodo District arena, it’s time for officials to pause and reconsider before making irreversible commitments to this troubled project.
The latest revelations are that Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s office and City Council members delayed the release of a damning report, showing that it was feasible and cheaper to remodel the city’s KeyArena.
As revealed by The Times’ Geoff Baker, City Hall commissioned the report, then kept it quiet until after an environmental study favoring the Sodo arena was done and released with fanfare.
The environmental-impact statement (EIS) was supposed to explore whether alternatives were available that could minimize the project’s impact. Yet the EIS gave short shrift to the option of remodeling KeyArena, which Sodo arena proponents had dismissed — erroneously, as it turns out — as unworkable.
It’s appalling that City Hall would manipulate the release of public information to save face and avoid scrutiny of a costly, controversial project.”
It’s appalling that City Hall would manipulate the release of public information to save face and avoid scrutiny of a costly, controversial project.
The result is the mayor and council keep pushing forward on a $490 million, publicly funded sports palace with no team lined up, even though there’s a cheaper and less disruptive alternative on the table.
A turning point will come in March when the City Council considers whether to vacate a stretch of Occidental Avenue South on which the Sodo arena would be built.
Vacating the street is a point of no return. It’s when Murray and the council would show whether they have the courage to challenge a flawed project that would congest and jeopardize what’s left of the region’s waterfront industrial zone. Or would they rather hand over an irreplaceable street and subsidize what’s become a pipe dream for hedge-fund manager Chris Hansen, who appears unlikely to secure an NBA team before his arena deal expires in 2017?
The administration discourages substantial changes and improvements, citing the risk of lawsuits — “We can’t break the deal.” Councilmembers are under pressure not to break consensus, go back on the city’s word and stop progress.
This short-circuits governance and neuters the role of a legislative body that’s supposed to protect the public interest.
Legal risks are no excuse for passivity. With the arena deal — initially made by former Mayor Mike McGinn, King County Executive Dow Constantine and Hansen — legal challenges are certain if the city proceeds as planned.
It’s time for a fresh look.
Seattle residents fed up with poor representation restructured the City Council and elected district representatives last fall.
The arena is the first major opportunity to see if this reconfigured council can stop the ramrodding and provide more balance and oversight or whether it’s just a rubber stamp.
If the council truly represents the best interests of its diverse constituents and the long-term viability of industrial jobs, it will stop the Occidental street vacation — or at least make it conditional upon securing an NBA team by the 2017 deadline.
The city should also halt progress on permitting the arena until the environmental-impact statement properly weighs the KeyArena alternative.