BY Art Thiel 10:35PM 07/30/2012

Thiel: County, city buy time for more arena work

With Hansen’s approval, King County Council makes changes to MOU that are approved by 6-3 vote, while buying time to research what isn’t known about impacts to SoDo.

More than 50 people spoke to the County Council Monday before public deliberations began, including a rare holdover Danny Fortson fan. / Art Thiel, Sportspress Northwestei

The end of the beginning of the arena project was reached Monday when Seattle took the hot potato and flipped it to King County, which fired it right back to the city. And it was good.

But somewhere, Chris Hansen is thinking to himself, “Jeezus H., I could have just given $290 million to the Boys and Girls Clubs, and yelled, ‘Go Sonics.’”

As long as he doesn’t say it out loud, his plan lurches forward, an amendment at at time.

The basketball/hockey arena proposal won its first vote, 6-3, entitling it to another round of elections. Just like, ahem, the House of Representatives. I know, cruel analogy.

After adopting unanimously five amendments to the original memorandum of understanding created among developer Hansen and the executives of the city and county, the full Council, in front of an overflow audience in chambers and many TV cameras, bought the deal.

To this point. With changes to come. And more votes.

Easy as it is to mock the Seattle process and pick the nits, in my experience with these sports-stadiums argy-bargys (they say that in London a lot, I’ve heard), this one has, six months into it, gone at lightning speed. And, remarkably enough, with some degree of fairness.

“We had our say,” said Dave Gering, executive director of the Manufacturing Industrial Council, a SoDo organization whose cause came out on the losing end Monday with the county vote. “We’re pretty happy to get our issues on the table, especially if you compare to where things were six months ago. This process hasn’t been too bad.

“Especially when you combine it with what the city did.”

Gering referred to the city council’s pre-emptive political strike Monday. Forty-five minutes before county council deliberations began on the amendments, the city council hastily called a press conference to summarize why it sent a three-page letter to Hansen expressing dissatisfaction with the original MOU (see story here). It was signed by eight members, missing only Bruce Harrell.

The two governments were in a race to see who could leave the most bruises on Hansen’s idea, just to show, bygawd, they weren’t going to be shoved around.

It was like two 11-year-old boys trying to show the same pretty girl how much they like her by punching her in the shoulder.

But the arena is serious to the principals. It has become a flashpoint for many intertwined issues involving Seattle’s urban future.

As Gering put it: “We’re on to a discussion about industrial Seattle like we’ve never had.”

Exactly. Many people who knew nothing about the SoDo neighborhood, Port of Seattle or international trade suddenly know a little bit about the Panama Canal, Prince Rupert, B.C., municipal bonding and KeyArena stagehands.

But the public still doesn’t know a lot. The members of both councils don’t know much more. Which was the reason behind Monday’s developments – stalling for time until they get some data.

“What is it they say? ‘Don’t let a good crisis go to waste,’” said county council member Bob Ferguson. He was joking about the collision of agendas over the Sodo’s destiny: Whether it will remain a bastion of middle-class jobs mostly belonging the maritime industry and metal-bender shops, or become gentrified like the shores of Lake Union, once full of working docks and marine repair shops now given over to restaurants and high tech.

Ferguson was the sponsor of four of the amendments, the most important of which called for an independent economic analysis of arena impacts. Hansen will pay up to $200,000 to fund the work, which includes the construction and operation of the arena, and effects upon retail, commercial, industrial and freight transportation.

The study will take a maximum of 90 days from the adoption of a final MOU by city and county.

For its part, the city primarily wants to negotiate with Hansen to get more money for traffic mitigation. They want him to divert a still-to-be-determined percentage of the tax revenues going to debt retirement, and instead used it to solve traffic problems that will be revealed (or dismissed) by an environmental impact study. They also want more security guarantees.

Why all the fussing now? Because if the arena deal doesn’t get done properly in the front end of the project, it will come back to bite Hansen and the public later. Hansen gets it – he has been negotiating with the county on each amendment approved Monday, and every issue that was raised in the city’s letter.

Both governments took care not to surprise Hansen with anything in public that they had not already negotiated in private. Doesn’t mean he liked some of the concessions, but nothing so far has been a deal-breaker.

But there could be information in the economic analysis or the environmental review that might be too much for any of three parties to tolerate.

That was the ominous point from Pete von Reichbauer, the county crank who joined Larry Phillips and Reagan Dunn in voting no. The long-tenured von Reichbauer has been through stadium wars for football and baseball, and knows well what will happen if the project gets bum-rushed past the involved constituencies.

In the longest remarks of any council member prior to declaring their vote, von Reichbauer outlined the virtues of Hansen as an owner and the liabilities of the financing plan and the site.

“People say, ‘If you build it, they will come.’ But not if they’re stuck in traffic,” he said. “When I first met with Chris, I told him there were three issues – transportation, transportation and transportation. The issue is not resolved in this MOU. If we don’t resolve it now, the lawsuits will come.”

He cited a powerful but little publicized opponent  — Burlington Northern, which holds railroad right of way that skirts the eastern edge of the arena property.  By federal mandate, the rights of railroads are first and foremost when it comes to land use. And the railroad has said it doesn’t like the arena.

Perhaps Hansen has a work-around for the railroad’s objections. And he’s probably prepared for some lawsuits. But the takeaway from Monday’s events is that Hansen has has accepted the civic nudge to put in time and care now to reduce the legitimacy of legal complaint.

“I want to personally thank the King County Council for all of their hard work and for taking a big step today to move forward on our proposal,” Hansen said in a statement on  Sonicsarena.com. “There is still much more to be done, but I am looking forward to sitting down with City Council members to figure out how we can make this deal work for everyone.”

The SoDo site has so many conflicting interests that it may not survive. But no one can accuse Hansen of not listening or working. Same too, for the councils, who made room to breathe.

Rather than complain about process, consider that this might be how these difficult public-private partnerships are supposed to get done. These days, what isn’t a hot potato?


YourThoughts

  • jafabian

    I’m curious as to how serious building a hockey arena on the Eastside is and if it impacts Hansen’s proposal in anyway.  Does in instill a sense of urgency on any of the involved parties?  At least for that project not only does it have a financially solvent backer but the NHL is interested in making it happen based on the fact that Wayne Gretzky was in town touting it.  The NBA has barely sniffed Hansen’s project.  At least publicly.  (Oh, the wicked ways of polticial finangling!)

    I disagree with the suggestion that traffic will keep patrons away.  If that was the case the Sonics would have never lasted as long as they did at the Coliseum/Key Arena and Husky Stadium has it even worse but they pack it in all the time.  Yes, a new arena in Sodo will add to traffic but only if the team succeeds.  If it has the same track record that Clay Bennet’s teams did while he was in Seattle for an extended period of time the issue won’t be traffic but rather can the team sustain itself.  Especially when it’s competing for the public’s sports dollars with the Seahawks, M’s, Sounders, Huskies and Storm.  It actually seems to me that Seattle is the last place for a new arena to be built.  I’m wondering if Hansen was prepared for the resistance that the Sodo area has had in buidling a new arena?  Especially from the Port and Burlington Northern? 

    • Artthiel

       I don’t think anyone took seriously Levin’s claim. Because he suddenly went to the foghorn right before the vote, then claimed ignorance, it looks like a transparent stunt. I’m not saying he isn’t serious and wouldn’t be a good owner, but he’s nowhere near as far along as Hansen  is, and nothing happened Monday to throw Hansen off. Something could, however, so Levin might come back into play then.

  • jafabian

    I’m curious as to how serious building a hockey arena on the Eastside is and if it impacts Hansen’s proposal in anyway.  Does in instill a sense of urgency on any of the involved parties?  At least for that project not only does it have a financially solvent backer but the NHL is interested in making it happen based on the fact that Wayne Gretzky was in town touting it.  The NBA has barely sniffed Hansen’s project.  At least publicly.  (Oh, the wicked ways of polticial finangling!)

    I disagree with the suggestion that traffic will keep patrons away.  If that was the case the Sonics would have never lasted as long as they did at the Coliseum/Key Arena and Husky Stadium has it even worse but they pack it in all the time.  Yes, a new arena in Sodo will add to traffic but only if the team succeeds.  If it has the same track record that Clay Bennet’s teams did while he was in Seattle for an extended period of time the issue won’t be traffic but rather can the team sustain itself.  Especially when it’s competing for the public’s sports dollars with the Seahawks, M’s, Sounders, Huskies and Storm.  It actually seems to me that Seattle is the last place for a new arena to be built.  I’m wondering if Hansen was prepared for the resistance that the Sodo area has had in buidling a new arena?  Especially from the Port and Burlington Northern? 

    • Artthiel

       I don’t think anyone took seriously Levin’s claim. Because he suddenly went to the foghorn right before the vote, then claimed ignorance, it looks like a transparent stunt. I’m not saying he isn’t serious and wouldn’t be a good owner, but he’s nowhere near as far along as Hansen  is, and nothing happened Monday to throw Hansen off. Something could, however, so Levin might come back into play then.