The council approved an agreement that will allow the Oak View Group to demolish the existing Key Arena and replace it with a new facility. Supporters hope to attract an NHL team to Seattle.
The Seattle City Council took the final step Monday toward allowing a redevelopment of KeyArena that could mean the National Hockey League playing in Seattle by 2020.
In a unanimous vote, the council approved lease and development agreements that will allow the Oak View Group to demolish the existing KeyArena and replace it with a new facility.
“We’re starting a new day here in the city and a new partnership,” said Councilmember Debora Juarez, who chaired the council’s Select Committee on Civic Arenas.
The agreement passed 8-0. Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda was absent.
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The vote caps a yearslong civic process that included a fierce fight over a competing arena proposal for the Sodo neighborhood. Under the deal approved Monday, The Seattle Arena Company, or ArenaCo, which includes the Oak View Group, plans to spend $700 million building a new facility in Seattle Center. The new, expanded facility will preserve the arena’s current roof and seat between 17,000 and 19,000 people, depending on the event.
ArenaCo plans to host an NHL team and possibly eventually a National Basketball Association team, too. The 39-year lease includes two possible eight-year extensions.
Oak View Group CEO Tim Leiweke told the council Monday the deal would “create a world-class arena and ultimately add another huge point of destination in [Seattle Center].”
Leiweke said the loss of the Seattle Supersonics took the “heart and soul out of Seattle Center.” In a thinly veiled response, Juarez later praised the Seattle Storm, who recently won a WNBA championship. “That was 10 years ago,” Juarez said of the Sonics leaving, “and you’ve kind of got to let that go.”
Demolition of KeyArena could begin this year. The development agreement between ArenaCo and the city allows demolition of the existing KeyArena only once the NHL Board of Governors has awarded Seattle an NHL franchise. Supporters say such a deal is likely.
Local investors will present to the NHL’s executive committee on October 2. Then, the full NHL Board of Governors will vote in December on whether to approve an expansion franchise for Seattle for the 2020-2021 season. A Seattle NHL team would be owned by billionaire David Bonderman, movie producer Jerry Bruckheimer and a handful of local owners. Along with the NHL process, Leiweke said his group would “continue to push aggressively” for an NBA team.
Backers of the project in City Hall have argued the agreement represents a favorable deal for the city and a stark contrast to other cities that have handed over public funds for sports arenas.
The deal includes “minimal financial participation from the city,” Councilmember Sally Bagshaw said Monday. “This is a big deal.”
Under the deal, ArenaCo will be required to pay the city about $5 million per year, which the city says is about how much it currently makes from KeyArena. Revenues beyond that $5 million will be split between the city and ArenaCo, with 75 percent going to ArenaCo for the first decade and 50 percent after that.
While ArenaCo will cover the costs of the project, including possible overruns, the company will also receive some public benefits. The city will pay ArenaCo about $350,000 a year for the first 10 years of the deal to cover the sales tax ArenaCo will pay during construction. The city will also pay ArenaCo any admissions taxes collected on tickets for events at the new arena beyond the amount the city currently collects from admissions taxes on events at KeyArena. The group has applied for $70 million in federal tax credits.
As part of a community benefits package, ArenaCo will employ a “community liaison” to communicate with nearby neighborhoods affected by the arena. ArenaCo will also spend at least $20 million in charitable giving, including $10 million over 20 years to YouthCare, which serves homeless youth.
The new arena will be available for 14 rent-free days per year for certain events, including an annual four-day health clinic and the Bumbershoot music festival during Labor Day weekend. A labor harmony agreement will set goals for ArenaCo’s use of apprenticeship labor and women- and minority-owned contractors. Representatives from several Uptown neighborhood groups and the Martin Luther King County Labor Council expressed support for the deal Monday.
ArenaCo will pay $2.5 million toward affordable housing through the city’s mandatory housing affordability program, which requires developers to set aside affordable housing or pay a fee in certain parts of the city. That amount is more than what would be required under city law. The group will pay the required portion during the permitting and construction process and the rest within two years of opening the new arena.
The city’s negotiations with the Oak View Group formally began last year. The city issued a request for proposals in January 2017 and in June 2017 the city selected OVG’s proposal. The city and OVG then signed a memorandum of understanding before negotiating the deals approved today.
On Sept. 13, the deadline to appeal the city’s environmental impact statement on the project passed without any appeals, sparing supporters of the project a potential monthslong delay. The legislation approved by the council Monday authorizes the mayor to execute the deal with ArenaCo.
In a statement, Mayor Jenny Durkan praised the council vote, saying the deal “will create good, family wage jobs, make critical investments in transportation, and protect taxpayers by ensuring the city will not foot the bill for construction, including any potential cost overruns.” Durkan plans to sign the council legislation Tuesday.