The Seattle City Council on Monday voted 5-4 to reject giving up part of Occidental Avenue South to Chris Hansen so he can build a half-billion-dollar arena in Sodo in hopes of reviving the Sonics.
Stunned gasps emerged from a crowd at Seattle City Hall on Monday as Councilmember M. Lorena González cast a decisive vote that could effectively torpedo a proposed Sodo District arena.
In a 5-4 decision, the Seattle City Council voted against giving up part of Occidental Avenue South to entrepreneur Chris Hansen for his arena. Though a memorandum of understanding between Hansen, the city and King County runs through November 2017, odds of a new deal being struck by then seem remote.
In a statement put out on Hansen’s SonicsArena.com website, he said, “Today’s City Council vote was disappointing but we don’t believe it is the end of the road in our quest to bring the NBA and NHL back to Seattle.”
Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, a former prosecutor who spearheaded opposition to vacating the street, is said by sources to have lobbied her female colleagues hard in recent days to sway their votes.
“I’ve been talking to all of them for a month,’’ Bagshaw said.
Mayor Ed Murray put out a statement shortly after the vote saying: “Today’s council vote makes it less likely that the NBA will return to the city of Seattle.”
He said he remains committed to exploring options for bringing the NBA and NHL to our region.
Bagshaw said those options should now include the city’s taking a more serious look at renovating KeyArena up to NBA and NHL standards. A report last year by the AECOM global architectural firm indicated that could be done for $285 million.
“We can do a cost-benefit analysis,’’ she said. “We can look to see if it can work. We can look to our partners and say ‘Is this something that you want to do?’ And we’re going to have to point to the Port and ask them to help. They were making a lot of noise about ‘We want our Port to survive’ and all of us want that. So, we’ll see what we can do together.’’
Bagshaw, who wouldn’t take personal credit for the swaying of votes, said she’d woken up Monday feeling the motion to give up Occidental would go 7-2 in favor. She knew that she and Lisa Herbold opposed the motion, but Councilmembers González, Kshama Sawant and Debora Juarez remained undecided until the very end.
One source said the three female council members who were undecided had become increasingly put off in recent days by the personal attacks Bagshaw was taking from male sports fans on social media and certain talk-show hosts on Sports Radio KJR. But they also gave impassioned speeches before their votes, siding with the unionized workers from the Port of Seattle.
Sawant was particularly fiery, blasting what she called the bureaucracy of the Port’s management and quoting a past U.S. Attorney’s description of it as a “cesspool of corruption.’’ But she also ripped into “the barons who control our professional sports teams’’ and pit sports fans against working-class jobs.
“I am in solidarity not with the Port of Seattle,’’ she said, “but with the Port workers and the ILWU (International Longshore and Warehouse Union) who are trying to stand up against these forces of gentrification.’’
Sawant said she didn’t like being put in a position where she has to pick sports jobs against other jobs. “I do want to help bring back the Sonics, but I cannot do that on the basis of undermining our working waterfront and good-paying unionized industrial jobs,’’ she said.
Just before Sawant’s speaking, Juarez had upped the tension in the room, indicating a “no” vote with a speech highlighting the value of Seattle’s deep-water Port and contrasting it against an arena plan that lacked a confirmed team.
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“You can always build an arena,’’ Juarez said. “You can build three arenas, you can build five arenas. You can build them anywhere. But you cannot build another deep-water port. You cannot do that. You cannot replace history or tradition.’’
Then, with Sawant’s back-and-forth speech finally indicating a fourth “no” that deadlocked the council, all attention turned to González.
She still had to wait for a couple of male colleagues to speak, but Bruce Harrell, Tim Burgess, Rob Johnson and Mike O’Brien had already indicated before Monday they’d be voting in favor.
Finally, it was González’s turn, and the room fell silent.
The first-term council member, whose addition of a late amendment to the motion was seen by some as a sign she might vote in favor, did not tip her hand during the early part of her speech. But things shifted when she talked about how, as a West Seattle resident, she had to battle daily through Sodo traffic.
“I don’t believe the traffic issues have been well dealt with’’ when it came to complaints of how removing Occidental would impact Port operations, she said.
With that, she announced her intention to oppose the motion — prompting spontaneous cheers from various unionized workers and Port officials in attendance. Sonics fans clad in green and gold sat stunned, one with his head in his hands, before slowly trudging out of the room.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told The Seattle Times last month that the league first must get through its collective-bargaining process — which could take until next year — before even beginning expansion talk. Hansen’s funding arrangement would have provided him up to $200 million in public bond money, but only if he first landed an NBA team before the MOU expiration in November 2017.
An amendment that would have required Hansen to acquire an NBA team even for a privately funded venture was defeated before the final vote. Had the street removal been approved, Hansen would have had up to five years to build an arena — even after his public funding deal ran out.
But not anymore.
Port Commissioner Fred Felleman said after the vote he was as surprised as anybody in the room by the turn of events.
“This is not a recognition that we don’t want the Sonics,’’ he said. “I think everybody is pro-Sonics. This was just not the place to do it.’’