If the renovation is deemed “public” then such a move would likely delay the KeyArena renovation to the point it misses its targeted October 2020 opening.
Inside sports business
Yet another twist in this city’s ongoing arena saga now sees entrepreneur Chris Hansen and his group adopting a strategy once used against him by the Port of Seattle and its allies.
Hansen is trying to get a new arena built in the city’s Sodo District. But the city’s leadership instead is trying to finalize a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Los Angeles-based Oak View Group (OVG) to renovate KeyArena as the region’s major indoor sports and concert venue.
An environmental-impact statement (EIS) on KeyArena must be prepared, and the public “scoping” period to define its parameters has begun. As part of that process, Hansen’s land-use lawyer, Jack McCullough, has submitted a letter to the city arguing that KeyArena renovation should be considered a “public” and not “private” process.
That’s huge, because if the renovation is deemed “public” then the environmental study would have to examine alternative sites for the project. Such a move would prolong the EIS and likely delay the KeyArena renovation to the point it misses its targeted October 2020 opening.
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The letter can be found on the city’s website, in a public portal listing all comments received on the KeyArena project.
If this sounds familiar as a strategy, it should: The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local No. 19 used the same public-vs.-private and “alternative sites” argument in its attempts to thwart Hansen’s project in Sodo four years ago. The union has been a key ally to the Port of Seattle in its battle to limit sports sprawl in Sodo, with both arguing that Hansen’s planned arena and surrounding ancillary development would hamper neighborhood traffic.
Four years later, the idea of studying alternative sites is now one of seven suggestions by Hansen’s group for how an EIS for KeyArena should mirror its prior Sodo study. McCullough’s Sept. 26 letter states: “The environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Sodo Arena is a thorough going evaluation of the potential impacts of the proposal. The EIS for the KeyArena renovation project should be no less comprehensive.’’
The letter adds: “Since this proposal is a public project on a publicly owned site, the EIS should include alternatives that evaluate development of the proposal on other sites.”
That’s more or less what the longshore workers’ union argued about Hansen’s project four years ago — that it was public, not private, and needed to study alternative arena sites. The city and King County disagreed and kept the project private, but they offered a compromise because both were considering approving up to $200 million in public-bond funding for a Sodo arena. They had Hansen’s group study two alternative sites at Seattle Center.
But ILWU lawyer Peter Goldman argued that wasn’t good enough.
Goldman wrote the city on Sept. 30, 2013, that the Sodo arena MOU “specifically anticipates that the arena will be publicly owned in the future’’ and is therefore a public project. And that meant, he added, looking at alternatives beyond just the city proper and including nearby suburbs.
Hansen argued the opposite of Goldman. He claimed his Sodo project was “private” even though the city would end up owning the arena with Hansen’s group operating it as a tenant.
The city went along with Hansen’s interpretation. The city argued that the Sodo project was “initiated by a private entity” and “would be constructed, operated, and largely financed’’ by Hansen’s group.
Today, Hansen’s group is arguing the opposite about the privately financed renovation of publicly owned KeyArena. The big question: How far would Hansen take this if the city ignores his group’s suggestion and declares the OVG KeyArena project private?
The ILWU and Port made it clear in 2016 that there would be a lawsuit if Hansen’s plan advanced to “shovel ready” status. And they said a major component of that lawsuit would be that the Sodo project EIS violated state law because it deemed Hansen’s arena private.
The lawsuit threat ended when Hansen’s attempt to secure part of Occidental Avenue South for his project was denied by a Seattle City Council vote on May 2, 2016. Had the vote passed in Hansen’s favor, the Port and its allies had scheduled meetings for the following morning to gain the needed authorizations to file a lawsuit immediately.
If Hansen now is borrowing from that Port and ILWU playbook, would he also file a lawsuit claiming the EIS for KeyArena is illegal?
In an interview Oct. 10 with The Seattle Times, Hansen said he wasn’t one to be litigious.
“I have never sued anybody in my life,” Hansen said. “And I would not be starting with suing the city of Seattle.”
Nonetheless, Hansen appears to be laying the groundwork for something. A legal challenge would be interesting, because there’s hardly much Washington state case law regarding the leasing of a public facility the size of KeyArena to a private group spending the amounts OVG has pledged.
If not a legal challenge, then perhaps it would be another public-relations volley in a Sodo campaign that recently has picked up steam.
Regardless of Hansen’s intentions, the McCullough letter proves the adage that if you stick around long enough, history is bound to repeat itself. Or, in this case, reverse itself, with Hansen’s group now borrowing from its adversaries to make the public argument rather than the private one.