Hundreds of green-and-gold-clad Sonics fans packed the Seattle City Council chambers and a separate spillover room alongside dozens of maritime industry representatives and unionized workers.
Passions ran high Tuesday night at a public hearing into whether the city should give up part of a street to build a Sodo District arena.
Hundreds of green-and-gold-clad Sonics fans packed the Seattle City Council chambers and a separate spillover room alongside dozens of maritime industry representatives and unionized workers. Entrepreneur Chris Hansen has asked the city to give him two blocks of Occidental Avenue South for his project, a move the council could vote on in late April or early May.
“When was the last time you really had the opportunity to unify our city?’’ Greg Root, who runs a signage company and sits on the Seattle Sports Commission, asked the council members. “The Seattle Sports Commission believes that a well-planned and year-round stadium district will make a huge positive impact on Seattle’s economy, its quality of life and its international standing as a destination city.’’
Cameron Collins, a Seattle attorney and a producer of the Sonicsgate film depicting the backstory of how the Sonics left for Oklahoma City in 2008, talked about how sports can bring people together across the political spectrum.
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“There will be people sitting next to me at Seahawks games that are hardcore Trump Republicans,’’ Collins said. “And me, as a Bernie Sanders supporter, I can sit there and talk to them about something.’’
But others warned a new arena and additional development around it will only hamper traffic and freight transportation throughout Sodo.
“We should not risk letting our vital maritime industrial sector die a death by a thousand cuts,’’ Port of Seattle commissioner John Creighton told the council. “Because, this is not only a proposal around an arena. This is a proposal around a much larger entertainment complex. Closing Occidental will worsen traffic in an already congested industrial area and risk middle-class jobs. And with no current prospect for a team, there is no reason to take a vote on the street vacation right now.’’
Creighton suggested putting off a vote until all final arena details are negotiated and signed off on at the very end of the process. He also suggestested the council consider a study by the AECOM architectural firm suggesting KeyArena could be modified for NBA and NHL use for $285 million.
John Persak, a district president with the International Longshore and Warehouse Workers Union, agreed the city should be looking elsewhere.
“We have always said ‘Bring the NBA back to Seattle,’ but Sodo is in the wrong location,’’ Persak said. He added: “A new deal in a new location will preserve opportunities for living-wage jobs and set the stage for success in attracting a team to Key Arena.’’
Mayor Ed Murray has said a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Hansen prevents the city from exploring a renovation of KeyArena with interested parties. The MOU expires in November 2017, and Murray says the city remains committed only to Hansen and Sodo until then.
Numerous Sonics fans described to council members their appreciation of Hansen’s efforts to build the arena and suggested they should not delay things any longer.
“It’s been three years that this deal has been approved,’’ said Kris Brannon, known as the “Sonics Guy” for showing up to public events dressed in the former NBA squad’s colors.
John Barr, who runs the NHL to Seattle website, questioned why the Port of Seattle and its allies have provided so little data to support contentions that traffic will be adversely affected by the arena.
But Peter Goldman, a lawyer representing longshoremen, told the council members the vote is about more than a couple of blocks of Occidental. He suggested it would not be legal for the council to award Hansen the street before the council has even decided that Sodo is the best place to build the venue.
“Mr. Hansen is asking the council to vacate the street now so he can effectively anoint his $50 million of property in Sodo as the site for the new arena,’’ Goldman said. “And market the site as “shovel ready” for the NBA. This tactic makes a mockery and a sham out of the council’s commitment in the MOU … that the city honestly consider an alternative site for the project.’’
Susan Russell, a homeless advocate with Real Change, told the council it was “crazy” to consider spending public funds on building an arena with the scarcity of affordable housing in Seattle reaching epidemic levels.
Hansen would receive up to $200 million in public bond funds from the city and King County to build his arena if he lands an NBA team.
The hearing lasted 2½ hours and followed an earlier rally by Sonics fans organized by Hansen’s team and Sports Radio KJR. Former Sonics coach Lenny Wilkens and ex-Sonics radio voice Kevin Calabro helped whip the fans into a frenzy.
Andrew Wergeland-Rammage, 25, a Ballard resident attending the rally in Sonics garb, said it was important for fans to make themselves heard.
“I really hope the people here take the time to listen,’’ he said of the council. “One voice can’t always change things, but with a couple of hundred, you never know.’’