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 . . .
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:
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: http://buildingconnections.