With Murray’s resignation, there is a new dynamic in a seemingly open path to a revamped KeyArena. Most likely, that still will be the outcome. But if people were wondering what a successful Hail Mary scenario for Chris Hansen’s rival arena group could look like, this is it.
It was supposed to be the public unveiling of a defining moment in the ongoing arena saga.
The folding chairs were aligned in neat rows in front of a dais and microphone. Media members were setting up their cameras, and a few dignitaries were milling about. But suddenly, word spread of a shocking new development: The outdoor news conference at Seattle Center to announce the Memorandum of Understanding between the Oak View Group and the City of Seattle was being called off because of new allegations of sexual abuse against Mayor Ed Murray.
Not too long after, Murray resigned, and now there is an entirely new, unexpected dynamic in what seemed was finally an unencumbered path toward construction of a revamped KeyArena.
Most likely, that still will be the outcome. The weight of momentum and the heft of city politics still seem aligned squarely behind OVG and its CEO, Tim Leiweke, who was all prepared to take the stage Tuesday and extol the virtues of the MOU.
Yet, if people were wondering what a successful Hail Mary scenario for Chris Hansen’s rival arena group could look like, well, this is it.
Hansen’s plan last week to finance his own more modest renovation of KeyArena into two smaller concert venues excited his followers but was summarily dismissed by the Seattle Office of Economic Development. It was too little, too late, a statement said.
Now, however, there might be a sliver of hope for Hansen’s Sodo project. Namely, that the chaos at City Hall throws enough turmoil into the local political scene that the arena project is thrown off the fast track that Murray had it on, with an eye toward getting it all resolved before the next mayor took office.
Murray’s goal was for a city-council vote perhaps as soon as Dec. 4, the day after Hansen’s MOU with the city is scheduled to expire. But now council president Bruce Harrell has been elevated to mayor — at least for five days, at which time he must decide if he wants to stay on until the November election. If not, the council would choose another of its members to serve as interim mayor.
How that would affect the arena project remains unclear. There is a school of thought that the council is eager to get this off its plate and would like to vote it through at the earliest possible chance. Certainly, the details of the MOU reveal what shapes up as a sweet deal for the city, one that fulfills or even exceeds all the protections it sought as far as revenue generation and risk.
Also, the mayor’s role in the arena process had effectively ended anyway with the MOU agreement. Now it is kicked to the city council, which has hired its own independent consultants to review the plan. The Council’s Select Committee on Civic Arenas hearing about the MOU remains scheduled for Monday.
There had been strong indications that the council is lined up to approve the MOU. That would pave the way for OVG in 2018 to begin construction of a two-year, $600 million renovation they plan to finish by October 2020.
Would the departure of a mayor hellbent on cementing his legacy as the one who got the arena built change any council votes? It doesn’t seem likely, considering that Murray already was a lame duck that had suffered severe political wounds in the past few months.
But turmoil at City Hall is Hansen’s friend. If the MOU vote is somehow delayed while the political fallout of Murray’s departure is sorted out, it could buy him time to forge a true game-changer. It seems to me that would have to come in the form of either the revelation of a deep-pocketed investor — the so-called “whale” that departed when Steve Ballmer bought the Clippers — or a team that’s willing to commit to the Sodo site.
Meanwhile, the smart money should still be on OVG to prevail in the arena battle. It has the much stronger connections to the NBA and NHL, the latter seemingly all but signed and sealed to announce an expansion franchise in Seattle once the MOU is approved. It has an agreement in place it believes fulfills the requirements of the city to solve what has been a huge problem for them — the future of KeyArena.
What OVG doesn’t have is the site that is preferred by a majority of sports fans, largely because of the traffic and parking issues that hang over KeyArena. The MOU addressed that with a $40 million pledge by Leiweke’s group toward mitigating those problems. But that would not appease skeptics, it seems, until it’s opening day for the new hockey or basketball team, and ingress and egress is not a total disaster.
But OVG has to appease only the city council to get this deal through. Hansen might have a stronger pulse today than he did yesterday, but despite the shakeup at City Hall, Leiweke still is in position to prevail once and for all.