A final environmental impact statement (FEIS) on the proposed $700 million renovation of KeyArena for NHL and NBA use contains numerous mitigation measures aimed at heading off appeals by local stakeholders concerned about the project. Any appeal would delay construction by months and likely put off the awarding of a Seattle NHL team this year
An environmental impact report released Thursday on the $700 million renovation of KeyArena references additional mitigation measures aimed at heading off legal challenges that might delay construction and the arrival of a National Hockey League expansion team.
Based on more than 440 public comments received from local stakeholders during a mandated 45-day springtime period – some of which were filed by attorneys – the Los Angeles based Oak View Group (OVG) developer will partake in steps to lessen potential disruptions, including construction noise, vibration and adverse traffic and parking conditions in the surrounding area. The 379-page final environmental impact statement (FEIS), required by state law, will help the City of Seattle and OVG finalize a development agreement that must be approved by a mid-September city council vote before an estimated 24-month construction period could begin in October.
“Controversy around the Seattle Center Arena Renovation Project has focused largely on the potential for significant traffic and parking impacts in an already congested area,’’ states the report prepared by the Environmental Science Associates firm, with traffic analysis by Fehr & Peers, for the city’s Department of Construction and Inspections. The report adds that additional concerns expressed include “direct and indirect impacts during construction, including noise/vibration, congestion related inconvenience and disruption and the effects on access to recreational programming at Seattle Center.’’
Any appeals of the FEIS must be filed within a 14-day period ending September 13.
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Heading off such appeals is critical for OVG if the arena is to be completed by the October 2020 start of that year’s NHL season. The NHL executive committee is to meet in New York in early October to hear a presentation by the NHL Seattle group – headed by president and CEO Tod Leiweke and future hockey franchise owners David Bonderman and Jerry Bruckheimer — seeking an expansion team to begin play during the 2020-21 campaign.
That October meeting would only take place if no FEIS appeals get filed. Any appeal would take at least three months to be adjudicated by a city examiner and likely delay completing the renovation in time for an NHL team to begin by 2020.
If no appeals are filed and the league’s executive committee gives thumbs-up in October, a full NHL board of governors vote on approving a Seattle expansion franchise for a $650 million fee would likely occur in early December in Florida.
Both Leiweke brothers – OVG head Tim and NHL Seattle honcho Tod – and their representatives have spent months meeting with KeyArena neighborhood stakeholders that expressed concerns following the release of a draft EIS back in April. Among top priorities was dealing with a lengthy joint comment submission by representatives of the Expo and Astro apartment complexes adjacent KeyArena, which expressed concerns about construction noise, vibration and broader issues that sometimes had little to do with the buildings themselves.
The submission was sent in a 17-page letter signed by Seattle land use attorney Courtney Kaylor of the McCullough Hill Leary firm. Jack McCullough, one of the city’s foremost land attorneys, is a named partner at the firm and has long represented San Francisco-based entrepreneur Chris Hansen in his stalled bid to build a brand new arena in the city’s Sodo District.
Hansen’s representatives have denied his group had anything to do with the letter. Among the arguments Kaylor used was that the proposed renovation is a “public project’’ and the draft EIS should be redone and study alternative arena sites – a step that would delay the renovation by several months.
But the FEIS released Thursday continues to treat the renovation as a “private” project – given construction is privately funded – and addressed the Sodo issue only by stating: “Some commenters stated that the South of Downtown (SoDo) area was preferable for an arena because they believe that area does not have the same congestion concerns, and some commenters asked that an off-site location be considered as an alternative. Because the objective of the project is the renovation of KeyArena, an off-site location is not evaluated in the EIS.’’
Instead, the FEIS studied the environmental impacts of three scenarios: around-the-clock construction, only daytime work, or leaving KeyArena as-is. Only with the day-and-night construction would the arena be done by October 2020, with the restricted daytime-only version causing a delay of at least six months.
As for the two apartments, the FEIS conducted noise studies in May, June and July – including during a recent Paul Simon concert — from the rooftops of both and concluded they won’t be adversely impacted by major KeyArena events.
As for future construction, studied with three-dimensional noise modeling, the FEIS determined that daytime work also would have no significant impact, but that some nighttime work – especially from truck loading — would cause adverse noise and potential sleep disruption for residents. The FEIS also says the noise could impact non-residential nighttime operations at KEXP radio, SIFF Film Center and The Vera Project.
OVG has since agreed to a mitigation plan and will install a temporary, 12-foot noise deflection barrier as a construction fence on three sides of the project’s perimeter. The developer will also use conveyors to load materials for transport, operate certain trucks and cranes in areas further away from the buildings, prohibit jackhammers, concrete saws and similarly noisy tools from operating at night and use strobe lights and flaggers as opposed to backup alarms on mobile equipment.
The study found the Expo and Astro apartments won’t be impacted by excessive vibration caused by construction, but that KEXP, SIFF and The Vera Project – which use sensitive equipment – likely will. It says the city can mitigate this by mandating OVG use certain equipment to lessen vibration, warn tenants ahead of time of any “impact equipment operations” and stabilize and repair any structures sensitive to vibration.
On traffic and parking disruptions caused by its work, OVG would impose time limits on “haul routes” through vacated 2ndAve. N. and Harrison St. running through the Seattle Center campus. It would also post flaggers to help guide pedestrians across the haul routes when in use.
Truck trips would also not occur through other haul routes in the surrounding neighborhood – except for during continuous concrete pours – during the peak morning and afternoon rush hours.
Once the arena reopens, the FEIS says the addition by 2025 of Link Light Rail extensions from Eastside communities to Westlake station could significantly reduce vehicles driving to the venue. It also says an upgraded Monorail could lure more users right away and after light rail expansion to complete the “last mile” journey from Westlake to the arena.
The FEIS estimates that, under current conditions, users postgame might wait 20 minutes for a Monorail ride. But it notes that a June report prepared for Seattle Center by Via Architecture estimates hourly Monorail ridership capacity could double to 6,000 in each direction by expanding station platforms, using automated ticket windows and an integrated fare card.
And it seems to suggest OVG might help pay as a “partner” to implement those upgrades. On all other transportation issues, the FEIS states OVG will “work with” the city on improvements.
“OVG would partner with Seattle Center and Seattle Monorail Services to implement high priority
Monorail improvements recommended in the (Via Architecture report),’’ the FEIS states. “These recommendations would improve the boarding and egress experience at both stations…and increase the Monorail’s capacity. Coupled with a program to encourage parking around Westlake Center, these improvements would help mitigate traffic operations and parking impacts of the arena by providing a convenient last mile connection.’’
OVG officials could not immediately be reached to comment on whether they’ve committed to pay for any Monorail work.