New basketball arena in Sodo rebounds

Byline: Emma Fletcher-Frazer

Sonics fans, don’t expect your favorite basketball team to be heading back to Seattle anytime soon. They wouldn’t have a place to play. The new proposed Seattle Arena has encountered resistance by the Port of Seattle and the City Council.

The proposed arena would be a NBA and NHL sports complex in Sodo, above Landers Street. The Seattle City Council voted down the request to vacate a block on Occidental Street, necessary to build the arena, on May 2, 2016. The 5 to 4 vote was mainly influenced by traffic concerns. The loss of the block would leave First Avenue as the only street running north to south to go past the stadiums. In the case of an emergency or heavy traffic it was considered unwise to have just one street available.
The Seattle SuperSonics were an NBA team based in Seattle until 2008. The team’s owner, Clay Bennett, an Oklahoma City businessman with Professional Basketball Association LLC, sold the Sonics to Oklahoma City after a long battle over KeyArena. Bennett claimed that the arena was unsuitable and eventually moved them to Oklahoma, causing great outrage with Seattle fans.

In 2012, Chris Hansen, the entrepreneur and hedge fund manager who proposed the Seattle Arena, created a Memorandum of Understanding, MOU, with the city and King County. They agreed that he had until November 2017 to acquire the land to build the arena. In September of 2016, Hansen paid $32 million for about four acres in Sodo, but he still needs the Occidental block. Hansen also needs an NBA team. If Hansen persuades the NBA to let Seattle have a team, he would receive $200 million in bonds from the city and King County combined to help fund the stadium.

In late October of 2016, Hansen offered to finance the new Seattle Arena privately, rather than have the county or city pay for it. This would avoid the city having to pay the $200 million public subsidy, which could help persuade the city to let Hansen purchase the block on Occidental. However, it does mean that Hansen would then qualify for tax breaks, taking money away from the city. Hansen’s plan also means that he would receive the seat tax, a tax on event tickets, rather than the city, which is common practice for privately funded stadiums. Privately financing the stadium means Hansen no longer has a deadline for acquiring an NBA team, according to the 2012 MOU.

Even without a deadline, the NBA and NHL both say they aren’t focused on expanding to Seattle. In April of 2016, Adam Silver, NBA Commissioner said, “there didn’t seem to be much interest in expansion…from our owners.’’

The NHL expressed similar sentiments.
“We have other things to focus on,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman added. The NHL has long been interested in Quebec City as a potential location and in June of 2016 it was announced the NHL would be expanding to Vegas. However, Hansen remains convinced that he can persuade either the NBA or NHL to sign a team.

Game timing is another concern of those opposed to the new stadium. CenturyLink Field and Safeco Field’s schedules work in harmony, often having one game in the morning, and one in the evening at the other stadium. CenturyLink has NFL and MLS games and Safeco Field has MLB games. Another arena in Sodo would upset the balance and could create even more traffic in downtown Seattle. Hansen claims he will be able to come to an understanding with the other stadiums. The NFL, MLS, and the MLB control the schedules, however, not the individual stadiums.

The Port of Seattle also argued against the Seattle Arena, claiming that it would cause a loss of maritime jobs.

“The proposed arena would be right next to one of the container terminals of the Port of Seattle,” Vice President for External Affairs of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association Jordan Royer said. “Working waterfronts like the Sodo area and the port terminals down there, they need to have really good transportation in and out.”

When there is traffic congestion, it makes transportation to the container terminals more difficult for the Port. The Port signs a contract to lease the terminals with companies. If they deem the traffic to be unacceptable, they won’t sign the contract and will take their business elsewhere. Seattle is already the fifth most congested city in the US, according to a report by navigation company TomTom.
Another idea is renovating the KeyArena. Although the KeyArena’s roof has been deemed historic, a recent proposal would allow builders to rotate the building, creating more space while keeping the roof.
Mayor Ed Murray has issued a Request For Proposals on designs for a new KeyArena, which are due in January of 2017. Two separate groups, Anschutz Entertainment Group and The Oak View Group, have expressed interest.

Another problem posed is the theory of economic substitution. According to the theory, the money people would spend on Sonics tickets and merchandise would be taken away from other businesses in Seattle, because people only allot a certain amount of their budget to spend on entertainment.
The Seattle Arena would also take business from KeyArena in the form of concerts, leaving it defunct for the city’s purposes.

Although diehard Sonics fans are common in Seattle, they and Chris Hansen have a long way to go before the Sonics return.

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