BY Art Thiel 12:11AM 07/20/2012

Thiel: Sports fans loud, port not going away

The passionate split in the community was obvious at Thursday’s unusual joint public hearing. Not as obvious was the way to a compromise.

Numerous, boisterous and passionate as were the supporters of the proposed SoDo arena Thursday night at City Hall, I don’t think the needle was moved by the public’s last, best chance to weigh in on the project.

The highly unusual combined meeting of city and county councils – the first in at least 40 years, according to King County Council member Larry Gossett – drew such a big crowd that many had to watch the proecedings on TV from an overflow room upstairs.

In the mandatory maximum one-minute turns at the microphone, sports fans held the majority opinion. Armed with sentiment from Sonics history, anger from the scoundrel-hood of Howard Schultz and Clay Bennett, and using data and rationale supplied by arena developer Chris Hansen – not to mention leveraging the most cash ever promised to a Seattle sports project by private investors – green and gold had the better stats.

Are they winning the game? Don’t know. But opponents aren’t going away. Judging by the emotions on both sides Thursday, neither is the split in the community. Unfortunately for all parties, Hansen’s choice of site has become an either-or proposition. It’s hard to see at the moment a compromise that will satisfy all parties so that lawsuits can be avoided.

The proposition to provide up to $200 million in public bonding capacity for a lease-purchase of the arena requires majority approval of both councils. The county is likely a yes vote, mostly because it has relatively little skin in the game. The city is another matter.

Multiple city administrations and councils have been negotiating with the Port of Seattle for years over traffic and infrastructure issues that have plagued SoDo. Not only have city commitments to the port such as the Lander Street overpass been abandoned, the port received no heads-up from the mayor’s office until news of the project broke in February. The port has been on defense ever since, and is more hapless at it than ex-Sonic Vladimir Radmanovic.

Taking the lead for numerous other SoDo constituencies, including the almost-invisible Mariners, the port has struggled to counter-punch a jab repeatedly made by critics who say the concerns aren’t as dire as the port makes them.

The jab was landed again Thursday by longtime Sonics advocate Brian Robinson.

“Bring statistics and facts to match the rhetoric,” he demanded.

The port’s answer? A shrug. Port CEO Tay  Yoshitani said it again Thursday as the evening’s first public speaker:

“Right now,” he said, “we just don’t know.”

But if the port were more precise, what should say is: It can’t know. Because the port is being asked to prove a negative.

The potential job losses associated with traffic and gentrification are a supposition that can’t be sorted from the threats to jobs from market competition and other non-arena factors that existed before anyone in Seattle heard of Chris Hansen. But his project’s arrival is an opportunity for the port to use the arena attention to leverage long-standing grievances.

That’s OK. The port’s commissioners would be idiots if they didn’t seize the moment.

They are seizing the moment. More significant this week than the public hearing Thursday was Yoshitani’s letter to city and county officials urging that an environmental impact study be done before the memorandum of understanding is voted upon next month.

“The limited transportation study conducted recently on behalf of the arena proponent did not fully analyze our seaport operational issues and incorrectly described terminal operations,” Yoshitani wrote. “The Port urges the City to exercise its discretionary SEPA (State Environmental Policy Act) authority, in a phased approach to environmental review, before making any affirmative commitment of public resources allowing the arena project to proceed.”

What that means is the port wants an independent analysis before the MOU is signed, because it would give the port, and the public, some of the facts demanded by Robinson and others.

The MOU commits the city to a SEPA review and states clearly that public funds will not commence until after it is completed. But the port thinks that once the MOU is signed, little will stop the project’s momentum.

Knowing a little bit about human and political nature, the port is probably right. And having been hosed by the city in previous commitments, the skepticism is warranted.

Yoshitani makes no threats to sue in his letter, but that would be pointless. The longshoremen’s union would be among several likely candidates to file suit challenging the city’s position. On the council, there could be five votes to keep, as Yoshitani said, “the horse ahead of the cart.”

Two council members said after the meeting that an EIS before an MOU vote “isn’t going to happen.” And if the city council insisted, Hansen could well see it as a deal-breaker, because the first phase of an EIS requires comparing his site with comparables. His group vetted multiple sites privately, and reasonably would loathe the public push-pull of three or four sites competing to win him over to something he’s already rejected.

The city tried a compromise, sending a letter to the port Monday listing 20 possible mitigations of traffic that could constitute a compromise. Turns out, according to two sources familiar with the list, that most of the offerings had been subjects of years of conversation between the sides and offered little new.

So unless someone has a better idea soon, the city council will have the choice of telling the port no, which invites a lawsuit, or Hansen no, which invites a farewell.

Would have been so much easier, even pleasant, four years ago, to tell Clay Bennett to drop dead.


YourThoughts

  • Jamo57

    One thing that I keep hearing when all of the parties either make a statement in the paper or make an appearance on the radio is something to the effect, ‘We’d be happy to talk about the situaion (options, idea, etc.) but we haven’t heard from (insert body or interest group here)’.    And that has come from the mouths of both pro and anti arena interests.

    Having taken some classes in negotiations and negotiating techniques, it brings to mind one of the most famous examples historically of the Paris peace talks during the Vietnam War.    The two sides spent months on the topic of what shape should the actual negotiating table be.   The North Vietnamese delegation were intractible on the subject.    It was an example of the technique of a ‘Red Herring’ of creating an superfluous issue, but the underlying principle was about creating leverage and an immediate superior negotiating position when the other side conceded on a meaningless issue.

    It comes to mind from the standpoint that it seems that all parties are waiting to be ‘approached’ by the other side which immediately creates a superior position of the ‘approachee’ of needing to be satisfied.   Hansen, the Port, the obstructionists, the mayor, etc. all seemed to be in a holding pattern waiting to be approached by ‘the other side’, and as a result immediately assume a superior position.  

    If that is the case, I wonder who will blink first.

    • Artthiel

       The arena opponents want to stop or at least slow gentrification, and Hansen thinks the entertainment district is a key element in making his investment. Stakes are high for the various consitutencies, and it’s too early to consider blinking.

  • Jamo57

    One thing that I keep hearing when all of the parties either make a statement in the paper or make an appearance on the radio is something to the effect, ‘We’d be happy to talk about the situaion (options, idea, etc.) but we haven’t heard from (insert body or interest group here)’.    And that has come from the mouths of both pro and anti arena interests.

    Having taken some classes in negotiations and negotiating techniques, it brings to mind one of the most famous examples historically of the Paris peace talks during the Vietnam War.    The two sides spent months on the topic of what shape should the actual negotiating table be.   The North Vietnamese delegation were intractible on the subject.    It was an example of the technique of a ‘Red Herring’ of creating an superfluous issue, but the underlying principle was about creating leverage and an immediate superior negotiating position when the other side conceded on a meaningless issue.

    It comes to mind from the standpoint that it seems that all parties are waiting to be ‘approached’ by the other side which immediately creates a superior position of the ‘approachee’ of needing to be satisfied.   Hansen, the Port, the obstructionists, the mayor, etc. all seemed to be in a holding pattern waiting to be approached by ‘the other side’, and as a result immediately assume a superior position.  

    If that is the case, I wonder who will blink first.

    • Artthiel

       The arena opponents want to stop or at least slow gentrification, and Hansen thinks the entertainment district is a key element in making his investment. Stakes are high for the various consitutencies, and it’s too early to consider blinking.

  • effzee

    I’m an ex-hardcore Sonics fan with jerseys from several seasons and playoff paraphernalia on the walls, but Tim Donaughy, David Stern and Clay Bennett have ensured that I’ll never give the NBA another dollar of my money. I couldn’t care less about the NHL, and I genuinely wonder if the building will be relevant and viable for whatever entity wants to inhabit it 30 years from now. I also wish that Hansen had not invested so much into this one location so soon. It seems like he could have come here with the presentation he has, but with the willingness to purchase the same amount of land in a location that could be negotiated to and approved by all.

    That said, I think if there is another arena built in the city, Sodo is the only place for it to go. I just think their all-or-nothing approach could have been handled differently. I do not buy the traffic arguments or the idea that it will not create jobs. For me, the arena is not about professional sports, though. Its about jobs, growing the city, making the Sodo area less nasty, and bringing major entertainment events here like the NCAA Tournament, Disney on Ice, Cirque du Soleil, etc., that do not presently come to Seattle because Key Arena is inadequate. Even the concerts that do come to Key Arena instead of the Tacoma Dome or Marymoor Park end up sucking because the acoustics are so horrendous.

    I’m totally torn on the idea, I see both sides, but I just don’t think the opposition side has enough ammunition to prove the drawbacks outweigh the benefits and prevent it from happening. They certainly haven’t convinced me to not support it.

    • Artthiel

      Effzee, it’s a bit refreshing to hear someone genuinely torn. Most people are yes or no without interest in the other side, or the nuances of the issue. Hansen took a risk in shooting first and asking questions later, figuring in the end it would be less time and trouble than watching Seattle argue over siting for four years, as it did with the Kingdome.

      I disagree about the consequences of traffic. The city agreed with the port 10 years ago that traffic was bad enough to design a Lander Street overpass. Traffic didn’t suddenly get better, but the city took the money from the project and gave it to Mercer Street, because it helped serve Paul Allen’s interests in S. Lake Union.

      The opposition, as repped by the port, wants info too, but wants it to come first from an indepdendent EIS, not a study paid for by Hansen. Not an unreasonable request.

      • effzee

        I agree, it is not an unreasonable request, and I also agree that it was probably a good tactical move on Hansen’s part to avoid years of argument over siting. It was ideal for forcing the issue, but not necessarily for making friends quickly. It also does suck that the Port was shafted when that money was sent to S. Lake Union. I’m just not convinced that events mostly beginning after 7pm would do as much harm to the Port as they want me to think it would.

        Something I would like to know is what percentage of companies that ship to the Port get the schedules of sporting events that happen at Safeco and the Clink and arrange their shipments for days that there are not Mariners, Sounders, or the occasional weekday Seahawks games, for the specific purpose of avoiding event traffic.

        • Artthiel

           Because the port’s gates close at 4:30p, doesn’t meantthat trucks stay trapped in there until morning. They are free to leave anytime, including rush hour for games. Trains stop for no game.

          It’s not so much about Asian shippers caring about Seattle game times; it’s American shippers trying to get through Seattle on time to meet export deadlines. And it’s a lot about non-port users like Waste Management, Rebanco, Costco the school bus depot and two cement plants filling up the streets with big vehicles.

          • Myk

            I disagree that most people are Yes/No…it seems that many people that are in favor of the Arena are also in favor of working with the Port to address their problems. The people against the Arena are the ones that seem to be against any sort of compromise/partnership.

            I would assume making traffic better for the Port would be a positive impact for all three stadiums…so I don’t see why they wouldn’t want to work with the Port to figure out some solutions.

  • effzee

    I’m an ex-hardcore Sonics fan with jerseys from several seasons and playoff paraphernalia on the walls, but Tim Donaughy, David Stern and Clay Bennett have ensured that I’ll never give the NBA another dollar of my money. I couldn’t care less about the NHL, and I genuinely wonder if the building will be relevant and viable for whatever entity wants to inhabit it 30 years from now. I also wish that Hansen had not invested so much into this one location so soon. It seems like he could have come here with the presentation he has, but with the willingness to purchase the same amount of land in a location that could be negotiated to and approved by all.

    That said, I think if there is another arena built in the city, Sodo is the only place for it to go. I just think their all-or-nothing approach could have been handled differently. I do not buy the traffic arguments or the idea that it will not create jobs. For me, the arena is not about professional sports, though. Its about jobs, growing the city, making the Sodo area less nasty, and bringing major entertainment events here like the NCAA Tournament, Disney on Ice, Cirque du Soleil, etc., that do not presently come to Seattle because Key Arena is inadequate. Even the concerts that do come to Key Arena instead of the Tacoma Dome or Marymoor Park end up sucking because the acoustics are so horrendous.

    I’m totally torn on the idea, I see both sides, but I just don’t think the opposition side has enough ammunition to prove the drawbacks outweigh the benefits and prevent it from happening. They certainly haven’t convinced me to not support it.

    • Artthiel

      Effzee, it’s a bit refreshing to hear someone genuinely torn. Most people are yes or no without interest in the other side, or the nuances of the issue. Hansen took a risk in shooting first and asking questions later, figuring in the end it would be less time and trouble than watching Seattle argue over siting for four years, as it did with the Kingdome.

      I disagree about the consequences of traffic. The city agreed with the port 10 years ago that traffic was bad enough to design a Lander Street overpass. Traffic didn’t suddenly get better, but the city took the money from the project and gave it to Mercer Street, because it helped serve Paul Allen’s interests in S. Lake Union.

      The opposition, as repped by the port, wants info too, but wants it to come first from an indepdendent EIS, not a study paid for by Hansen. Not an unreasonable request.

      • effzee

        I agree, it is not an unreasonable request, and I also agree that it was probably a good tactical move on Hansen’s part to avoid years of argument over siting. It was ideal for forcing the issue, but not necessarily for making friends quickly. It also does suck that the Port was shafted when that money was sent to S. Lake Union. I’m just not convinced that events mostly beginning after 7pm would do as much harm to the Port as they want me to think it would.

        Something I would like to know is what percentage of companies that ship to the Port get the schedules of sporting events that happen at Safeco and the Clink and arrange their shipments for days that there are not Mariners, Sounders, or the occasional weekday Seahawks games, for the specific purpose of avoiding event traffic.

        • Artthiel

           Because the port’s gates close at 4:30p, doesn’t meantthat trucks stay trapped in there until morning. They are free to leave anytime, including rush hour for games. Trains stop for no game.

          It’s not so much about Asian shippers caring about Seattle game times; it’s American shippers trying to get through Seattle on time to meet export deadlines. And it’s a lot about non-port users like Waste Management, Rebanco, Costco the school bus depot and two cement plants filling up the streets with big vehicles.

          • Myk

            I disagree that most people are Yes/No…it seems that many people that are in favor of the Arena are also in favor of working with the Port to address their problems. The people against the Arena are the ones that seem to be against any sort of compromise/partnership.

            I would assume making traffic better for the Port would be a positive impact for all three stadiums…so I don’t see why they wouldn’t want to work with the Port to figure out some solutions.

  • notaboomer

    ooh it’s the battle of the nba’s broken model against the racketeering influenced corrupt organization known as the port of seattle. i can’t wait to see who wins b/c we know the regular joes and josies will lose lose lose. 

    • Artthiel

       Can’t you work in the Medillin cartel and the Russian mafia, nota? I’d mention Lehman Brothers, but too late . . . 

      • notaboomer

         now that you mention it, si & da!

  • notaboomer

    ooh it’s the battle of the nba’s broken model against the racketeering influenced corrupt organization known as the port of seattle. i can’t wait to see who wins b/c we know the regular joes and josies will lose lose lose. 

    • Artthiel

       Can’t you work in the Medillin cartel and the Russian mafia, nota? I’d mention Lehman Brothers, but too late . . . 

      • notaboomer

         now that you mention it, si & da!

  • http://www.facebook.com/phillip.kezele Phillip Kezele

    I think this Arena plan would have had a better chance of success if it had been championed by any mayor other then the incumbent.  Another mayor would have been able to say “I want to build an arena while preserving the industrial character of SODO” and we could give him the benefit of doubt.  But this mayor’s past actions prevent us for doing that.  

    For example, when elected he stated that, while he did like the viaduct’s replacement with a tunnel, he would stand by the decision to do so.  After taking office folk from the mayor’s office then led the effort to change the decision, against the wishes of the industrial community. 

    What he can do is something, possibly symbolic, to convince folk that he seriously values industrialization.  Like taking a bit of stadium zoned land and re-zoning it for industry, or something.  Anything to suggest that he does not want to turn Seattle into South Vancouver, a fun but strictly residential community for tourists and expatriates.

    • Artthiel

       So, you’re saying . . . Greg Nickels?

      The arena issue has been dropped into the years-long family feud over SoDo. McGinn has made political enemies, and it is factoring into the arena vote on council. But who’s to say another mayor wouldn’t have made the same, or different, enemies? It’s a hypothetical that has no knowable outcome.

  • http://www.facebook.com/phillip.kezele Phillip Kezele

    I think this Arena plan would have had a better chance of success if it had been championed by any mayor other then the incumbent.  Another mayor would have been able to say “I want to build an arena while preserving the industrial character of SODO” and we could give him the benefit of doubt.  But this mayor’s past actions prevent us for doing that.  

    For example, when elected he stated that, while he did like the viaduct’s replacement with a tunnel, he would stand by the decision to do so.  After taking office folk from the mayor’s office then led the effort to change the decision, against the wishes of the industrial community. 

    What he can do is something, possibly symbolic, to convince folk that he seriously values industrialization.  Like taking a bit of stadium zoned land and re-zoning it for industry, or something.  Anything to suggest that he does not want to turn Seattle into South Vancouver, a fun but strictly residential community for tourists and expatriates.

    • Artthiel

       So, you’re saying . . . Greg Nickels?

      The arena issue has been dropped into the years-long family feud over SoDo. McGinn has made political enemies, and it is factoring into the arena vote on council. But who’s to say another mayor wouldn’t have made the same, or different, enemies? It’s a hypothetical that has no knowable outcome.

  • Plat and Dino

    I think the proposal, as it stands today, is a good one, but there is just the element of public participation that makes one feel, ahem, unclean.   So, perhaps some compromise can be made here by having Mr. Hansen and his partners dig a little deeper into their wallets/find more investors to fund the building. Then, using the $200 million in bonds, pay for the Lander flyover or whatever fixes need to be made.  The bonds could still be paid for as they are outlined in the current proposal, so no new taxes are levied.   The traffic fixes benefit EVERYONE, not just the port, so it’s a good use of public bonding capacity and in the end we all feel better about the deal. 

    • Artthiel

       Not an unreasonable suggestion, P&D, but the financing was constructed to get the public’s $ back, to give owners at shot at profitability and not have ticket prices unaffordable. Not saying it’s impossible to get more from owners, but the traffic mitigation fixes, long overdue, will cost $200M. No private owner is going to dig that deep. 

  • Plat and Dino

    I think the proposal, as it stands today, is a good one, but there is just the element of public participation that makes one feel, ahem, unclean.   So, perhaps some compromise can be made here by having Mr. Hansen and his partners dig a little deeper into their wallets/find more investors to fund the building. Then, using the $200 million in bonds, pay for the Lander flyover or whatever fixes need to be made.  The bonds could still be paid for as they are outlined in the current proposal, so no new taxes are levied.   The traffic fixes benefit EVERYONE, not just the port, so it’s a good use of public bonding capacity and in the end we all feel better about the deal. 

    • Artthiel

       Not an unreasonable suggestion, P&D, but the financing was constructed to get the public’s $ back, to give owners at shot at profitability and not have ticket prices unaffordable. Not saying it’s impossible to get more from owners, but the traffic mitigation fixes, long overdue, will cost $200M. No private owner is going to dig that deep. 

  • stickinthemud

    It will be hard for the port of seattle to accomplish this bold growth projection with the increased competition from gulf and east coast ports brought on by the 2014 completion of the Panama Canal expansion. Or even maintain current cargo volume.  

    • Artthiel

       Precisely. They know that. That’s why they don’t want another local complication added. The port views it as pile-on, because many fewer care about the port’s problems.

      We have two sports-talk radio stations in town. We have no port-talk radio stations.

      • Myk

        The one problem with the Port’s problem is that they want everyone to just assume that their growth projection is a valid and reasonable plan. Maybe their plan isn’t what is best for the City.

        I understand the concept that it is difficult to provide facts and figures, but the Port is walking on some really thin ice in this situation as the more they object the more spotlight is being shined on their performance…they might want to consider that their objections could start to lead to people wondering why things are being run so inefficiently.

  • stickinthemud

    It will be hard for the port of seattle to accomplish this bold growth projection with the increased competition from gulf and east coast ports brought on by the 2014 completion of the Panama Canal expansion. Or even maintain current cargo volume.  

    • Artthiel

       Precisely. They know that. That’s why they don’t want another local complication added. The port views it as pile-on, because many fewer care about the port’s problems.

      We have two sports-talk radio stations in town. We have no port-talk radio stations.

      • Myk

        The one problem with the Port’s problem is that they want everyone to just assume that their growth projection is a valid and reasonable plan. Maybe their plan isn’t what is best for the City.

        I understand the concept that it is difficult to provide facts and figures, but the Port is walking on some really thin ice in this situation as the more they object the more spotlight is being shined on their performance…they might want to consider that their objections could start to lead to people wondering why things are being run so inefficiently.

  • Will

    This is Seattle, and that guarantees doing things for wrong reasons. With a history of bluster and timidity, stubbornness and misdirection … we’re lucky to have running water. Conversely, Seattle has refined to an art the skills to jabber, study to death via committee and vote for politicians who won’t make decisions until there’s even more studies culminating in two or three public votes on a single issue. Even then it’s a coin flip what will be the resolution.

    Seattle government and civic management is fun to watch … if you don’t live in the city.

    • Artthiel

      Will, it’s all about NIMBY. Many of us have nice back yards, views, neighborhoods, that we don’t want disturbed — more than in most cities. We care more about our slices of the city, so we fight more to preserve it. Human nature. 

  • Will

    This is Seattle, and that guarantees doing things for wrong reasons. With a history of bluster and timidity, stubbornness and misdirection … we’re lucky to have running water. Conversely, Seattle has refined to an art the skills to jabber, study to death via committee and vote for politicians who won’t make decisions until there’s even more studies culminating in two or three public votes on a single issue. Even then it’s a coin flip what will be the resolution.

    Seattle government and civic management is fun to watch … if you don’t live in the city.

    • Artthiel

      Will, it’s all about NIMBY. Many of us have nice back yards, views, neighborhoods, that we don’t want disturbed — more than in most cities. We care more about our slices of the city, so we fight more to preserve it. Human nature. 

  • Mr Earl

    A million dollars is a lot of money.  What is it really going to cost  to build the stadium? 

    It’s air, dressing rooms, hardwood floor, a couple of baskets, a couple of benches, restrooms, a roof and a scoreboard.  Add the kitchens, the neon signs, ticket booths, cash registers  and a parking lot and what do you have?  5 million?  6 million? What is it really going to take to build this thing?

    The Silverdome just sold at auction for 500,000. 

    Private investors in San Francisco paid for their own stadium.

    If the public is to buy the land and build the stadium, the public should own the franchise , the stadium and the team.

    Not a bad idea. 

    The city might even considering adding an ice skating rink to Key Arena, plus a couple of bells and whistles the powers that be in the NBA may want and have Key Arena ready to host Kevin and Russel opening game next year.

    Go Sonics.

     

  • Mr Earl

    A million dollars is a lot of money.  What is it really going to cost  to build the stadium? 

    It’s air, dressing rooms, hardwood floor, a couple of baskets, a couple of benches, restrooms, a roof and a scoreboard.  Add the kitchens, the neon signs, ticket booths, cash registers  and a parking lot and what do you have?  5 million?  6 million? What is it really going to take to build this thing?

    The Silverdome just sold at auction for 500,000. 

    Private investors in San Francisco paid for their own stadium.

    If the public is to buy the land and build the stadium, the public should own the franchise , the stadium and the team.

    Not a bad idea. 

    The city might even considering adding an ice skating rink to Key Arena, plus a couple of bells and whistles the powers that be in the NBA may want and have Key Arena ready to host Kevin and Russel opening game next year.

    Go Sonics.