The documents, made available to The Seattle Times after a public-records request a month ago, include a letter from the city’s economic development administrator, Derek Speck, stating that an environmental-impact statement typically could be completed within “six to twelve months,’’ but the city would try to complete it sooner.
Documents released by the city of Tukwila show officials there have been heavily engaged in plans to build an arena for potential NHL and NBA teams since last summer and are hoping to fast-track completion of an environmental review before year’s end.
Hundreds of pages of letters, emails, legal agreements and other documents were released to the media Tuesday in response to a public-records request made one month ago by The Seattle Times. The documents show top Tukwila officials wrote in November to a group headed by Connecticut investment banker Ray Bartoszek and to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman assuring them the arena process would be handled as quickly as possible.
“I look forward to doing everything I can to expedite your development,’’ Tukwila Mayor Jim Haggerton wrote Bettman on Nov. 14, adding he wanted to “enthusiastically express our support” for the Bartoszek group’s plans.
Four days later, Derek Speck, the city’s economic development administrator, wrote to an architect working with Bartoszek’s group, saying an environmental review would typically take “six to twelve months’’ to complete. But in that letter to Mulvanny G2 CEO Jerry Lee, who is partnering with Bartoszek, NBA legend Bill Russell and former Sonics star Fred Brown, Speck said the city would try to complete a final environmental impact statement (EIS) more quickly than usual.
“This project is a high priority for the city of Tukwila and we will gladly collaborate with you and dedicate the resources necessary to expedite the environmental review,’’ Speck wrote.
Timing of the EIS completion and approval for construction to begin is critical for the Bartoszek group as it tries to beat out a rival arena bid by Chris Hansen in Seattle’s Sodo District. A final EIS is to be issued by the city of Seattle on May 7, but it could take until early next year to work through expected political and bureaucratic hurdles.
Bettman said last week that the NHL won’t consider the Seattle area for expansion until it sees a completed arena plan and financing in place.
Bartoszek was told in November to prepare a draft EIS report for Tukwila officials and is expected to request a full review by week’s end. The documents released Tuesday show that Brown and Russell took the lead on meeting with Tukwila early last year to launch arena efforts before Bartoszek joined the group as its main investor.
A letter to Brown from mayor Haggerton last May thanked him for his efforts and pledged to help him achieve his goal of building an arena and bringing “an NBA team” back to the region. The NBA has said it won’t expand for at least two or three years, but it’s expected Bartoszek’s group would work to land a basketball franchise once an NHL club is secured.
Several of the deal’s key figures, consultants and land owners were made to sign confidentiality agreements within the past year to help keep the Tukwila discussions quiet while Hansen’s Sodo project snagged most media headlines.
Buried deep within the stacks of documents are tidbits of information spelling out key details of the arena plan. Most important is information on the exact arena location — which was confusing when news leaked out Monday.
The arena initially was envisioned for farther east, but the plans were relocated because of existing railroad tracks. Instead, a parking garage will be placed near the tracks while the arena will be farther west, just off Highway 181 and south of Interstate 405.
Three sources with detailed knowledge of the land in question confirmed the arena site consists of eight parcels of land controlled by Bartoszek and comprising 4.17 acres. The land is several hundred feet to the west of an existing Sounder train station and is bordered by Highway 181, S. 156th Street, Longacres Way and Nelson Place.
“It’s actually the only place in that area you can fit an arena,’’ one source said.
The sources say Bartoszek, who declined to comment Tuesday, has signed agreements to purchase the land once the project is approved. Land owners have signed nondisclosure agreements prohibiting them from discussing the deals.
A oddly shaped, much narrower strip of land totaling 4.77 acres — not wide enough for an arena and located just south of the Sounder station — will be used for the parking garage. It was purchased out of bank foreclosure in August by a Minnesota-registered company for $2.5 million.
Documents released Tuesday suggest the company, Leuqar BB LLC, is to partner with Bartoszek and allow the parcel to be used for a parking garage.
In January, Tukwila completed a deal to sell an adjacent 3.18 acres of city-owned land known as “The Longacres Site” for $1.6 million to the same Minnesota company, thus widening the parking area. The deal will close by July 29, 2016 and the contract stipulates any site development be limited to a “public event facility accommodating at least 15,000 people’’ or other infrastructure related to it — including parking.
Other interesting tidbits found in the documents include a letter from architect Lee to Sen. Maria Cantwell’s office in November stating that Lee, Russell and Brown envision a $2 billion sports and entertainment project in and around the arena.
An email from Seattle consultant Lloyd Skinner — asked by Tukwila to oversee environmental compliance for the project — states his understanding is that Phase 1 of the privately funded venture would see the arena and parking garage built. The second phase, according to the email, would entail mixed-use development of potential hotel, office and retail and convention space.
No timetable for the two phases was given.