Public financing wasn’t a main reason ‘no’ voters gave in rejecting street vacation earlier this year, so will Hansen’s new proposal to privately finance SoDo arena change any minds.
“I think this new proposal by Mr. Chris Hansen is a game-changer to build the arena and bring an NBA team back.”
— Seattle City Council President Bruce Harrell.
Hmm. Game-changer. You sure about that, Mr. Harrell?
Late Tuesday night, after conferring with some colleagues, I settled on a topic for today’s column. I was going to write how the maligned Seattle City Council was right all along — that Hansen’s offer to privately finance the prospective SoDo arena justified the “no” vote on the Occidental street vacation last May.
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“There’s never going to be a better deal!” shouted those who condemned the council’s vote.
And then … boom — a much better deal emerges, in which Hansen and partners propose to spare the public $200 million worth of tax money to build the arena.
So I was going to applaud certain council members for holding firm and getting what they wanted for Seattle. One problem: Public financing had nothing to do with why any of the five “no” voters made their decision.
The reasons they gave centered on protecting maritime jobs and mitigating traffic. They voiced concerns over gentrification and displacing industrial workers. Lorena Gonzalez mentioned how she was a “skeptic” of public dollars used for private sports complexes, but made clear that her opposition to the street vacation was more of an effort to protect the port than the taxpayers.
In other words, council members’ rejection of the street vacation wasn’t some brilliant negotiating tactic. If they prompted a better deal from Hansen, it’s likely because they lucked into it.
But the point of this column isn’t to criticize the council, because this isn’t a black-and-white issue. The point of the column is to ask: Why would Hansen’s proposal swing any of the voters?
Imagine, for a second, a woman dumping a man because he isn’t sensitive enough. And in an attempt to win her back, he … gets plastic surgery. Sure, he may suddenly look a whole lot better to the public, but he didn’t address the issue.
Well, when Hansen released a letter Tuesday pledging to privately fund a $500 million-plus project, he looked ravishing in the public eye. Regardless of who’s paying or how it’s paid, there is a large portion of the population that hates seeing public money subsidize billionaires.
However, when it comes to the subject of port jobs, traffic and gentrification, does this proposal change anything? Because it’s not the public Hansen has to win over — it’s the city council members.
Emails sent to Gonzalez, Lisa Herbold, Sally Bagshaw, and Kshama Sawant early Wednesday afternoon were not answered. But a text to Tim Burgess was.
Burgess voted “yes” to the street vacation in early May, and on Wednesday, I asked just how much better this deal was compared to Hansen’s previous proposal.
Burgess was clear that, when it came to debt service, Hansen’s latest offer removed all of the risk to the city should something go wrong. But he added a caveat: “It’s important to understand what he (Hansen) is really saying.”
For instance, when Hansen asks the city to waive the admissions tax and business occupation tax, could that be an attempt to offset some (all?) of the $200 million of public money he was initially hoping for? And when Hansen said that his group is going to dedicate the money earmarked for Occidental Avenue toward the building of a Lander Street overpass, is that in addition to the $20 million or so he was already going to pay? And even if the Lander Street overpass was completed, would that be enough to offset the traffic brought about by a new arena?
These are questions that members of the city council are asking. This proposal is brand-spanking new and still requires review. Even a renovated KeyArena, Burgess said Wednesday, remains a possibility.
“We’re not closing any doors,” he said.
I probably sound anti SoDo arena, don’t I? I’m not. I don’t think the port has done much to prove that jobs would disappear, I don’t think Sonics games would cause more traffic in the area than Mariners games already do, and if I was on the council last May, I would have voted yes on the street vacation. But I also know there are people way smarter than me that think otherwise.
What politicians think and what politicians say are often two vastly different things. Maybe public financing was a big deterrent for council members who simply used the port as an excuse to vote “no.” But if they meant every word they said, will this proposal really make a difference?
You have to admire Chris Hansen for his persistence. It doesn’t seem like he’ll quit until his vision is realized.
And if he gets his way, he’s going to change this city. But when it comes to the city council, I’m not sure he’s changed any minds.