The Seattle City Council will vote May 2 on whether to give up Occidental Avenue South so Chris Hansen can build his proposed Sodo arena after a transportation subcommittee voted to forward the issue.
Chris Hansen is two weeks away from learning whether the city of Seattle will give up a street to build his arena project in Sodo District.
A Seattle City Council transportation subcommittee on Tuesday decided 4-1 to forward the issue to a full-council vote May 2. The result was expected, but the at-times-spirited debate by council members attending the meeting hinted that the coming full vote could be close.
“I believe there’s a path where this arena could be built, we’d get significant benefits and would continue to make the other investments where we’d continue to make our port and maritime industrial sector a thriving sector,’’ subcommittee chairman Mike O’Brien said during a comment period ahead of the vote.
But council member Sally Bagshaw, whose dissenting vote Tuesday prevented a final vote from occurring a week sooner, said there’s no legal reason to give up part of Occidental Avenue South to Hansen now. She noted the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Hansen, the city and King County requires the acquisition of an NBA team to trigger up to $200 million in public bond funding for arena construction costs.
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“There is absolutely no evidence at this point that the NBA commissioner is going to allow the SuperSonics to return any time soon,’’ she said of the NBA team that moved to Oklahoma City in 2008. “And there’s ample evidence to the contrary. There’s no team for sale, and expansions are not under consideration.’’
The MOU expires in November 2017 and Hansen would lose his public-funding option if he fails to land a team by that point.
An amendment proposed last week by council member Tim Burgess would give Hansen a five-year window to satisfy conditions of his street-removal request. If it goes beyond November 2017, public financing would not be included.
Bagshaw wanted language added that Hansen must acquire an NBA team during that five-year time frame for the street to be granted. The current wording would leave him a route to bringing an NHL squad here first under certain conditions. Bagshaw’s motion did not carry.
Council president Bruce Harrell asked whether the five-year timeline could be shortened to align with the November 2017 MOU deadline.
“It seems to me that accomplishes putting pressure on the investment group to work diligently in good faith to make this happen,’’ Harrell said. “It also makes it clear that we are only doing this … to hopefully get an NBA team.’’
Burgess replied that the five-year time frame was normal for the city. He added: “I would just remind you of the conversations we had with our lawyers.’’
Harrell said he doesn’t want a scenario where Hansen can come back after November 2017 and ask for an MOU extension for public financing. “That’s what’s going to happen,’’ he said, adding he isn’t interested in such a conversation.
Harrell also expressed concern that the Seahawks and Mariners are not happy with a proposed one-hour minimum between games played in Sodo. Both teams want the minimum lengthened. Harrell said he wants that language firmed up before the May 2 vote, adding that it’s “almost a deal breaker” for him.
But Harrell also indicated he’s committed to bringing the Sonics back. Adding his potential vote to three council members expected to approve for street removal — Rob Johnson, O’Brien and Burgess — would leave Hansen one vote shy of passage.
Beyond Bagshaw, council member Lisa Herbold is also expected to vote no. That leaves Kshama Sawant, Debora Juarez and Lorena Gonzalez’s votes as decisive. Political sources indicate all three are on the fence.
Acquiring the street is the final serious political hurdle for Hansen to overcome in getting his arena. It would pave the way for him to acquire a Master Use Permit his proponents say will make the arena “shovel ready” and allow him more leverage in asking the NBA to speed up its expansion time frame to give him a team.