The Environmental Impact Statement released Thursday is only one hurdle Chris Hansen needs to overcome for the proposed Sodo District arena to be built.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said Thursday it’s time for backers of a Sodo District arena to open their wallets if they want the venue built.
While hailing Thursday’s release of a final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) as “another major milestone” reached, Murray said he’s prepared to look elsewhere if entrepreneur Chris Hansen and his hockey partner can’t produce an “NHL first” funding proposal by fall. Murray told The Seattle Times he needs a “much, much better” public funding package to present to the Seattle City Council than the current Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Hansen, the city and King County.
That deal calls for up to $200 million in bonds toward a $490 million arena if an NBA team is acquired. But Murray believes there’s no chance of that now, meaning a new proposal with more private money for a riskier “NHL-first” scenario is needed.
“Folks have got to come up with a plan that’s viable for us to finalize this process,’’ said Murray, who needs less public funding to help him sell the council on a request to close a street that’s part of the 627-page EIS. “The timeline you see for decisions on the arena are the timelines for when we either go forward, or we pull the plug.’’
September is projected as the earliest date for a council vote on closing part of Occidental Avenue South to accommodate the arena. That means Murray likely needs something from Hansen by late summer.
Hansen and partners Peter Nordstrom, Erik Nordstrom and Wally Walker issued a statement Thursday welcoming the EIS release and saying they “remain 100% supportive of the NHL returning to Seattle and playing in the Arena — and are completely open to the prospect of that occurring prior to the NBA.’’
But they’ve yet to present an NHL funding plan.
Murray and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman have waited months for Hansen and Los Angeles real-estate magnate Victor Coleman — who would become owner of any NHL expansion team in Hansen’s arena — to produce such a proposal.
Two weeks ago, Bettman told The Seattle Times that Hansen appears to favor basketball over hockey and that no NHL expansion will happen until an arena deal is finalized. Within days, a proposal for an arena in Tukwila was announced by Connecticut investment banker Ray Bartoszek.
The EIS mentioned finding no significant obstacles toward building either a 20,000-or 18,000-seat arena in Sodo by 2018.
But Murray said addressing the funding issue and traffic concerns of the Seattle Mariners and Port of Seattle loom large.
The EIS estimates the maximum number of people attending simultaneous games at the new arena, Safeco Field and non-football events at Century Link Field would be 72,500 — roughly what a sold-out Seahawks game already generates at CenturyLink.
Traffic disruption would otherwise be minimal and mitigated by area improvements, it said.
Annual delay costs to Port-related traffic caused by arena traffic is estimated at $115,584 by the EIS.
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But Port Commission co-President Stephanie Bowman said Thursday the EIS traffic calculations are inaccurate. While she supports the NHL and NBA coming here, she said Sodo is simply too crowded.
“What the EIS doesn’t cover is whether they want a working Port or a high-end sports and entertainment district where they serve $15 cocktails and $25 hamburgers,’’ she said.
Bowman said Murray and other city officials should stop being “parochial” and put an arena elsewhere in the region — like the proposed Tukwila project.
The Sodo plan, she added, would take away work that pays $70,000 annually in favor of creating $15-per-hour minimum-wage jobs via the new arena.
But King County Executive Dow Constantine issued a statement hailing the EIS traffic findings.
“It’s encouraging to see from the environmental analysis that the traffic impacts can be minimized and managed with a number of identified measures to improve circulation,’’ Constantine said. “Also, mobility options are abundant at this location, with light rail, Sounder commuter rail, auto and passenger ferries, numerous bus lines, two interstate freeways and a state highway.”
Murray insisted he doesn’t want to partner with a new arena builder, given the legal difficulty of breaking an MOU with Hansen running through November 2017.
Hansen’s statement said: “In light of recent speculation, we would just like to clarify that we have sought to be as accommodating as possible in our negotiations with potential NHL partners, with our only major requirements being that such a deal does not jeopardize the process or put the City, County, Taxpayers or us in a worse financial position.’’
A KING 5 report last week quoted Coleman as frustrated with Hansen and prepared to find another arena partner, but Murray said Thursday that talks between the two are continuing. Coleman did not respond to an interview request.
An environmental review was launched last week for the rival Tukwila project. Permission to build could be fast-tracked for later this year and an arena finished by late 2017.
Murray said the council vote must pass with no further delays or risk losing the arena to the suburbs.
“Whether it’s the San Francisco 49ers playing outside of San Francisco in the suburbs, or the New England Patriots playing outside of Boston in the suburbs,” Murray said, “sometimes, that’s what happens.’’