An architects' report released in June says the Seattle Center facility could be revamped to hold NBA and NHL contests. Six maritime-related groups are asking the city to give that option another look before agreeing to hand over a section of Occidental Avenue for Chris Hansen's Sodo project.
Inside sports business
The first salvo will be fired Monday in a potentially epic final battle over whether entrepreneur Chris Hansen gets to build his Sodo District arena.
A coalition of six groups with common maritime interests, including the Port of Seattle, have signed a letter asking Seattle City Council and the city’s transportation department to postpone deciding whether to hand over a street to Hansen to accommodate his arena’s blueprint. The letter, to be delivered Monday, says all “final transaction documents” for the arena must first be resolved before any vote on the street vacation is held later this year or early next.
That’s a huge ask, since obtaining part of Occidental Avenue South is really Hansen’s last serious hurdle in securing permission to build.
Among items the maritime groups want resolved is arguably the biggest question of all: whether revamping KeyArena actually represents a better option than building a brand-new venue in Sodo.
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Sure, it’s easy to roll eyes at that one and suggest the Port and its allies are deploying desperate last-ditch tactics. It does feel like this arena thing — especially the KeyArena question — has already been debated, resolved and put to bed numerous times.
Only it hasn’t been. There is still a ton we don’t know.
Case in point: a recent study of KeyArena, finalized in late June by the nationally renowned AECOM architectural firm. It concludes that, contrary to prior belief, KeyArena actually is big enough for NHL and NBA games and could be revamped for $285 million.
The report was ordered following the 2012 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Hansen, the city of Seattle and King County. You’d think its conclusions would be big news given the city already owns KeyArena and struggles to find it enough events to avoid white elephant status.
But the city sat on the report for months. It was only in September that the media stumbled upon it and nobody is talking about it during the current city council election campaign that concludes next week.
Peter McGraw, spokesman for the Port of Seattle, says he has no idea why the report and Hansen’s project seem to have become a taboo subject during the campaign.
“You’ve got me,’’ he said. “There should be more discussion on this.’’
McGraw says the Port wants new teams for Seattle, just not in Sodo where they’ll impact cargo movement. Hence, the letter’s demands, including that the KeyArena report be seriously evaluated.
The letter’s signees include the Port, the Manufacturing Industrial Council, the Washington Maritime Federation and three unions representing longshoremen, boatmen and sailors.
Besides a fresh look at Key Arena, they want all details finalized on mitigating projected traffic increases in Sodo. They want the city to specify how much of a proposed transportation infrastructure fund will go toward nearby improvement projects to offset giving up Occidental Avenue South for the arena.
The groups also want formal discussions held on a city-sponsored economic impact study that looked at how the proposed arena will impact Sodo and area businesses — a report they contend did not examine the issue deeply enough. Finally, they want the city to implement recommendations from a 2013 report on land use alternatives to maximize the economic viability of property surrounding the arena site.
Without following through on such items, the letter states, it’s impossible to know whether giving up Occidental Avenue South for an arena is in the public’s best interest.
This would have made for interesting campaign discussion. Instead, there’s been silence — possibly because pro-arena politicians, including Mayor Ed Murray, aren’t sure how the elections will go and are leery of stirring up debate that leads to a council even less sports-friendly than the current one.
It’s tough to say what a brand-new discussion about KeyArena would yield. Just because the study concluded a revamp was possible doesn’t mean it’s preferable.
Somebody still has to pay the $285 million, which far exceeds the $120 million in bond funding the city offered Hansen’s project. Also, Lower Queen Anne traffic is chaotic and adding teams at Key Arena won’t help matters.
There’s also no guarantee, according to the study, that the expensive proposition of adding NHL and NBA teams would make KeyArena more profitable. Not to mention, the study found property values near KeyArena actually appeared to benefit from the Sonics leaving after 2008.
But that’s why you have a public discussion about such things. It’s possible, even after all of the above, that it would still be worth it for the city to revamp KeyArena and protect an existing asset from losing future business to a brand-new Sodo arena.
If nothing else, Monday’s letter should jump-start such discussions. Sports fans, weary of talk, understandably won’t be thrilled.
But some of the worst decisions on sports facilities were made to appease impatient fans.
If you’re going to commission a bunch of studies and reports, it’s not a bad idea to review their findings and implement key recommendations.
Especially if, once in a while, they tell you something you didn’t already know.