I am pleased that after months of discussion, we are seriously considering a new arena for our SuperSonics and potentially an NHL team.
I have moved from “Really? Spend public money on yet another sports arena?” to a qualified, “Yes.” The proposed plan can work for the people and entities that concern me deeply: the City itself, our taxpayers, our workers, our neighborhoods, the Port, our Seattle Center, and yes, our sports fans.
I thought I would describe the trail I have walked because it has been a rocky one for me.
I have read every article I could get my hands on – pro and con – and listened to hundreds of people who will be affected by the arena decision. Emotions have been running high, and my inbox has been overflowing with very strongly worded opinions on various sides of Chris Hansen’s proposal.
After months of debate with interested parties and my Council colleagues, I have concluded that the arena deal CAN be a success, and that it will succeed if we work collaboratively to minimize potential collateral damage and maximize the benefits to the public.
Here is how I initially framed the needs of a public-private deal, and how I am looking at it now:
My fundamental bottom line has been that the financial benefits of the deal to the City, the taxpayers and to the region must be documentable and compelling.
The financial benefits of the new deal have been discussed at length and have been significantly improved since the deal was first shared with the Council. As now drafted, the City and County will be reimbursed for reasonable development costs; for the thirty years of the lease term, ArenaCo will lease the ground from the City; ArenaCo is responsible for owning, installing and maintaining all the amenities of a new arena; the City will be repaid the amount it issues in tax-exempt bonds through the arena’s tax revenues which include incremental property tax, sales tax, admission tax attributable to the new arena and more. The revenues are backed by reserve accounts, capital accounts, Chris Hansen (and his successor) personal guarantee, and a first priority payment position for the City and County. And, at the end of the 30 years, the City can require ArenaCo to buy the arena so the City will not be stuck with an aging and costly facility.
Some people have asked me, “Why not issue bonds and invest the money instead in things we need like our roads and schools?” The answer is simple. We don’t have a new dedicated revenue stream to pay back hypothetical capital investments and our taxpayers would be responsible for paying additional property taxes. The arena is different. We WILL have a new dedicated source of money that will be repaid by users of the arena. This makes a difference to how I look at it.
I appreciate that Chris Hansen and his partners have negotiated in good faith with the City and County Councils and now agree to put enough money into escrow accounts that the public investment will be protected and repaid, and repayment will be guaranteed by the private investors. That’s progress.
Impacts to Port, Freight, Maritime and Aviation Industries
I started from the position that the Port, maritime and aviation industries, and accompanying family-wage jobs, must not be negatively impacted by the addition of a professional sports arena in the industrial area. This remains of critical importance to me.
I have taken the concerns of the Port, Freight, Maritime, and Aviation industries very seriously. I have met with leaders from each of these industries and businesses. The fact that leaders from each of these industries have stepped forward and are now working with the City and County and Port of Seattle to collectively address freight corridor needs is a positive development. Billions of dollars of exports and imports and thousands of family wage jobs depend on this corridor. Although the freight corridor improvements have renewed interest because of the Arena discussions, we can capitalize on this opportunity, work with our allies and reach out to the Port of Tacoma, to our trading partners around the state, to our state legislators for support. We must promote ourselves as a competitive region, and stop being competitors between one another.
Impacts to the Neighborhoods
The people who live and work in the immediate area of the proposed new arena must receive a tangible benefit. Pedestrians, business owners, residents, transit riders, drivers, bicycle riders must be assured of better connections and separated ped/bike network as a result of the proposed new arena.
We can build on the good ideas already generated by the neighborhood business and neighborhood coalitions to grow the healthy businesses, invite new businesses to the neighborhoods, and make the neighborhoods places where people want to be on game days and when games are not happening.
Wherever the Arena is ultimately sited, I want to bring leaders from affected neighborhoods to the table soon so they can help articulate their concerns and the City and ArenaCo can bring tools to solve the problems raised.
Traffic congestion in the immediate and adjoining neighborhoods, including West Seattle, downtown and SODO-south must be carefully considered and addressed. Freight mobility to I-5 and I-90 must be enhanced.
This is one of the primary issues and discussions are already underway. Enough said for now.
Key Arena and Seattle Center
The decision to build a new stadium must take into consideration the impacts on Seattle Center and Key Arena and repurpose Key Arena as the anchor of Seattle Center.
This is the big one for me. As Tim Burgess recently said, “Seattle Center is part civic square, part arts and sports venue, part school, park and open space. It’s a safe place where people gather …and the world to play, reflect, learn, watch and cheer. It’s a prize of immense value.”
Although a modest amount of funding has been included in the arena deal to reexamine the possibilities and vision for Key Arena and the Center as a whole, it’s not enough. Sure, we have required that an Environmental Impact Statement study the Seattle Center as a new arena site; however, if another site is chosen, we must decide how Seattle Center will thrive and the Key Arena can complement—not compete—with the new arena.
Some have recently said that the Key is dead. I think that is dead wrong.
We have been handed an opportunity to build on the good work that so many have done before us, including those who drafted the Seattle Center Master Plan in 2008 and the current Seattle Center Advisory Committee (SCAC). The SCAC is the first to admit that the Key Arena cannot sustain itself “as is” if a new arena is built. They advocated for an in-depth study back in July, and we are going to do just that.
It’s too soon to talk specifics, but I’m committed to ensuring that the people most directly affected by changes to Key Arena – including nearby residents and businesses, employees, Seattle Public Schools and non-profit tenants at and near the Center – have a voice in what happens next. We can bring a high-octane stakeholder group together, just as we have for the Waterfront. It’s worked.
Without limiting ideas in any way for the future of Key Arena and Seattle Center as a whole, I have been delighted to see people proposing their own innovative suggestions such as a revitalized “Title IX” arena that would become premier event space for women’s collegiate and high school sports including basketball, volleyball, and tennis.
Or as one local Olympic swimmer suggested, how about turning Key Arena into a much needed Aquatic Center for the city? He explained, “One of the most expensive aspects of building a first class facility is the expense to span a large pool. With Key Arena, only the pool facility would be needed, the building, locker rooms, seating, etc, already exists! A prefab Myrtha Pool could be put into Key Arena for minimal cost. A 50-m competition and training facility would be accommodated and additional facilities and equipment such as water slides could easily be added in the building.”
We will take this opportunity to investigate what can be done. We must fund a study and devote serious capital funding to embrace Seattle Center as never before. The City deserves it; the Center deserves it.
The Council should identify the best location for a new arena
From the beginning, I stated that the city should encourage investment in locations where the investment would promote our regional land use objectives. In partnership with prospective investors, we must determine where the best location will be for a proposed new stadium.
This will require a thorough State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) analysis which we have required in our Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). As approved, we acknowledge that Chris Hansen has his eyes on a particular site. Although SODO is Mr. Hansen’s preference, the City is committed to a process that requires an unbiased and thorough EIS to be conducted and other sites to be reviewed. This is not only a legal requirement, but a responsible approach as well.
For example, representatives from the Rainier Valley Community Development Fund wrote about the possibility of exploring the site of the old Sicks’ Stadium, located on Rainier and South McLellan (currently a Lowe’s is sited there), as an alternative and positive site. In their editorial, former Councilmember Richard McIver and David Essig, Director of Community Development described what a benefit a new arena would be to that area of our city. It’s near light rail, it’s near freeway on and off ramps, it would have the support of labor and presumably the Port, and it would help with economic infill where we really need it.
The point is that we should keep our eyes and minds wide open and do an environmental review considering alternative sites that is truly meaningful.
So there’s the summary. We’ve come a long way in a few months, and the journey is just starting.