BY Art Thiel 06:12PM 03/17/2014

Thiel: SoDo arena project’s EIS still months away

The final environmental impact statement for Chris Hansen’s SoDo arena was supposed to be done by March. Now it’s September at the earliest. The NHL waits . . .

The proposed arena in SoDo along First Avenue South. / 360 Architects

Despite some growing interest in expansion by the National Hockey League to Seattle, it won’t happen without a green-lighted plan for a new arena. But the next step in Chris Hansen’s proposed arena project for SoDo is months away from its next crossroads — a final environmental impact statement mandated by state law.

The original plan in September, after the last of the public comment periods on the draft EIS, was to have the final done by March. But because of requests by the EIS drafters for more information from Hansen’s development company, ArenaCo, the analysis won’t be ready before the end of summer, according a spokesman for the city’s department of planning and development.

“We’ve asked for some updates on the traffic analysis, location of parking during event days, and examples for how impacts could be mitigated along South Holgate Street for both pedestrians and vehicles,” said DPD’s Bryan Stevens, customer service manager. “The ball is in the applicant’s court to supply additional information.”

A source close to Hansen, who asked not to be identified, said a response is underway and said the delay is unsurprising “for a project of this scope and size,” he said. “We’re still on track.”

However, the company conducting the EIS sent Hansen’s attorney an email, obtained by Sportspress Northwest, that laid out the questions Jan. 14 with a hope that an answer might be delivered by early February. That hasn’t happened.

Since then, the NBA’s new commissioner, Adam Silver, said expansion is not on his agenda, while NHL executives and hockey officials in Vancouver have broadly hinted an interest in expanding to Seattle and another western U.S. city, perhaps as soon as the 2015-16 season.

Commissioner Gary Bettman said he had heard from multiple ownership groups from Seattle, and the Seattle Times reported recently that a “letter of intent” from the NHL to parties interested in expansion may be forthcoming in a matter of weeks.

Katy Chaney, vice president of environmental services for URS Corp., a national engineering, design and construction firm with offices in Seattle hired to create the EIS, wrote Jack McCullough, Hansen’s attorney, that she “thought you would have the missing information to us by the end of (January)” and reiterated a listing of information apparently provided by her company earlier.

Chaney’s list of information needs included:

  • Parking location and quantities
  • Holgate Street improvement options and how to characterize between optional or planned
  • The development potential of the no-build alternative at Holgate
  • Arena staging and event management
  • Transmission line routing information

An email seeking McCullough’s response hasn’t been returned.

Questions about Holgate, the southernmost boundary of the properties Hansen acquired along First Avenue South, south of Safeco Field, have been raised repeatedly by Burlington Northern railroad, owner of several sets of tracks that cross Holgate at grade, and may be among the hardest to solve.

The railroad fears fans coming or going to the arena on rainy winter nights will be in jeopardy without a substantial investment in public safety, which most likely means a pedestrian overpass that is neither in Hansen’s plan nor the city’s budget. An option of a vehicle overpass would resolve traffic backups, too, but is much more expensive.

Parking is also a big issue since Hansen’s plan in the draft EIS included no public parking structures, leaving arena users to find spots on existing streets or surface lots.

Once ArenaCo supplies the information, URS staffers will vet the information and include it in the EIS, which is comparing the SoDo site with three alternatives: No building at all, and two sites at the Seattle Center: KeyArena and Memorial Stadium. Since this is a city-funded EIS, no sites outside Seattle were considered.

Whenever ArenaCo provides the data, another long wait ensues.

“In short, it looks like it would take 16 weeks (4 months) to get the draft FEIS together,” Chaney wrote,  “and then maybe another month for a final camera-ready review and printing – again this schedule would start once we have the missing information.”

Even after the EIS is made public, a battle likely awaits. Opponents of the SoDo location have said publicly that the draft EIS was woefully inadequate, and indicated a strong willingness to litigate, a relatively common development with controversial projects.

And independent of the EIS, the potential intent of bringing an NHL team first instead of an NBA team would require approval from the city council. The memorandum of understanding among the council, King County Council and Hansen specifies the NBA first, which has a more robust financial history than the NHL.

Hansen lost his biggest political supporter when Mayor Mike McGinn lost his re-election bid. The victor, Ed Murray, has been notably evasive on the topic.

Nor is the support the project had on the council guaranteed.

As it stands, the project cannot move forward until Hansen secures an NBA team. If the NBA fails to cooperate, he would seek permission of the council for an NHL team. But the NHL would be reluctant to commit this summer to a city whose arena project is months away from final approval and past any legal opposition.

For the moment, the ball (or puck) remains on Hansen’s side.

The Department of Planning and Development has posted information, including an FAQ:



  • Jeff Shope

    Not gonna happen too many liberal/socialists in Seattle to let anything that makes sense happen. They will fight it just for spite

    • art thiel

      Right, Jeff. Arena opponents don’t have any points, principles or values. They’re just here to piss you off.

  • 1coolguy

    Art: Does this go forward with only an NHL tenant, given the county’s and or city’s involvement?

  • RadioGuy

    “Hansen lost his biggest political supporter when Mayor Mike McGinn lost his re-election bid. The victor, Ed Murray, has been notably evasive on the topic. Nor is the support the project had on the council guaranteed.”

    Boy, isn’t that the truth? I’m willing to believe Kshana Sawant is going to be a little less sanguine about this arena than Richard Conlin was. Maybe Hansen could tell her they can build buses in the arena during the offseason until she takes over the Boeing plant to the south. I wouldn’t count on help from Murray, either. He jumped on the Seahawks bandwagon (eventually), but I don’t get the impression he’s much of a sports fan. Until January, he probably thought Russell Wilson was the guy who sang “Lonely Teardrops.”

    Then again, Hansen isn’t doing too well at keeping this arena alive himself by dragging his feet on answering those EIS questions. They APPEAR benign enough.

  • jafabian

    As we saw with Safeco Field, if local politicians want the arena to happen, it’ll happen. The question is do the NHL and NBA want to be here? The Sounders and Seahawks have shown when a franchise is ran properly the support is there. (But really, that’s true in any major metropolitan area.) I get the impression both leagues have little interest in expanding. Also, if the NHL says yes to expansion and the NBA gives a hard line no, would Chris Hansen still go forward with his proposed arena? Would Steve Ballmer pull his support for an NBA franchise in favor of the NHL? Phil Jackson, who was to head the Seattle Kings, is now with the Knicks. Hansen’s master plan is slowly crumbling and there’s no solid foundation for an NHL franchise beyond some occasional teases by noted Sith apprentice Gary Bettman.

    At this point I think the city is more concerned with the Alaskan Way Viaduct and getting Bertha going again than moving forward with an arena project that will make Key Arena an albatross on Seattle Center. Not unless the NHL and NBA do their own Robinson Cano move and do something to get their attention. They need to walk the walk and not talk the talk.

  • MDL

    I wonder first if Hansen is running out of money, or if interest has wained. I wonder what his hedge fund performance is looking like.
    The other issue is the political will. The city may be just to short sighted to push this over the goal. Its interesting, the Spokesman Review just ran an article about how great their new arena has been for the economics of the region and that it is profitable. I can’t see Seattle politicians having that much foresight.

  • notaboomer

    i agree with jeff that the socialists who lined boeing’s pockets with corporate welfare tax breaks will not let this happen because it just doesn’t make sense for any multinational corps and their shareholders. and radioguy is spot on that that crazy soshelist sawant (kshama, kshana, kaching? whatever) will destroy all sports arenas by making beer vendors get health care benefits and $15 an hour. damn this librul wasteland.

  • notaboomer

    more soshelizm right from the nationalized hockey league itself:

    Six Ways The Florida Panthers Want To Screw Broward County

  • Kirkland

    Better to be late and get it done right, than rush it through and run into trouble later.