Seattle Mayor Ed Murray says the future of KeyArena is a major element that must be solved and he’ll spend his final months in power working toward that goal.
Murray attended Thursday night’s KeyArena open house at KEXP studios, where officials from two companies – Oak View Group and Seattle Partners — seeking to renovate the 55-year-old sports facility met the public and answered project questions. He said regardless of whether the city goes with OVG, SP or a Sodo District arena project pitched by Chris Hansen, the future of KeyArena needs to be settled ahead of that choice.
“We’ve gone on for over a decade on what we’re going to do with KeyArena,’’ Murray said. “And … the city has quite a liability up here. We have to make a decision one way or the other.’’
A city-commissioned report two years ago suggested it would cost taxpayers a minimum of $100 million and more likely $150 million to renovate KeyArena if it isn’t remodeled for the NBA and NHL. Though Murray is not running for re-election and will hold office only through December, he hopes to make a recommendation on a KeyArena group to the city council “earlier’’ than an initial late-June/early-July timeframe initially envisioned.
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“It’s important – it’s one of the things I’d like to have as part of my legacy,’’ Murray said. “The mayor that finally solved the arena issue that will eventually lead to a hockey and a basketball team.’’
Murray said the KeyArena question has always lingered, even after Hansen signed a five-year Memorandum of Understanding with the city and former Mayor Mike McGinn in 2012 to launch his Sodo project bid.
“When the Sodo proposal was put together by my predecessor, one of the unanswered questions was, ‘What are we going to do with this place?’ ’’ Murray said. “If it can’t be used for an arena … you have to redevelop it for something because right now we’re just paying a lot of money to Band-Aid it together. So it’s costing the taxpayers money right now.’’
Among those attending Thursday’s event were several self-declared fans of Hansen’s project. One of them, Justin Baghai, 25, of Ballard, wanted to hear more about public money the KeyArena groups are seeking.
Hansen’s group on Thursday put out a statement alleging the half-billion-dollar proposals by OVG and SP seek more than $200 million apiece in public subsidies.
Murray countered that Hansen’s group is also seeking “big chunks of public money’’ in a waiver of admissions taxes and “a re-definition of the B&O (business and occupation) tax.’’
Murray says that, nonetheless, all three proposals are “significantly smaller’’ in terms of public funding than Hansen’s initial Sodo offer from 2012, as well as previous stadium projects for the Mariners and Seahawks. He said his staff and outside consultants are gauging how well the KeyArena proposals “pencil out’’ and will ensure the groups are assuming enough responsibility for risk.
‘This was a site that just over a decade ago was considered a dead site that could never be used again,’’ Murray said of KeyArena. “And now we have two major developers of arenas – big-time players – who are begging to build in this city. I think we can find a win-win here.’’
Lance Lopes, the Seattle-based projects director for OVG, denied his group’s public-funding requests total more than $200 million. He also took issue with Hansen’s group suggesting OVG is leaving the city to assume cost overruns for the project other than for a so-called ‘’Act of God.’’
“If an earthquake happens in the middle of our project, we’re saying is there some way for us to have a conversation with the city about ‘What do we do next?’ ’’ Lopes said. “That’s all it is. But there’s no cost-shifting in any of that stuff. And anybody that extrapolates that is spinning a narrative that doesn’t exist.’’
Alex Vouvalides, chief investment officer for Hudson Pacific Properties – half the SP partnership along with AEG – said his group knew its $250 million public bond-funding request would draw scrutiny. But he added that members of the public he spoke with Thursday night seemed receptive once hearing the group is guaranteeing bond repayment and generating a yearly surplus for the city.
“There’s a connotation around bonds where people think it means all the burden’s on the city and taxpayers are going to have a tax hike to pay for it,’’ he said. “Which isn’t our proposal.’’