BY Art Thiel 06:30AM 03/29/2016

Thiel: Mariners’ arena letter shows a will to talk

The Mariners are still dreaming of a remodeled KeyArena, but a letter from their law firm suggests a willingness to accept a Sodo arena, provided a list of conditions are met.

The Mariners may be facing reality regarding a change in the ‘hood. / 360 Architects

For awhile, I thought Mariners ownership, in the run-up to potential action by the City Council on Chris Hansen’s Sodo arena project, was going to let surrogates at the Port of Seattle and the Seattle Times do the heavy lifting of opposition. The Mariners don’t want the arena there, of course, but they seemed to have learned a lesson about “rue the day” rhetoric.

But they could not remain silent.

In this case, I get their laments. To a point.

After seeing the port’s weak attempts at justifying its position via misleading videos and polls, and the Times calling Occidental Avenue “irreplaceable” despite the fact that the Mariners were granted a vacation of the same street for Safeco Field, the club hired a law firm to make public its case separately.

In a 16-page letter to all council members sent Friday from the Seattle firm of Hillis Clark Martin and Peterson, which specializes in real estate and land use issues, the Mariners took a legal version of an electron microscope to the evidence and conclusions reached by the city’s environmental impact statement and the requirements laid out in the memorandum of understanding among the city, Hansen and King County.

The letter urged that council consider other locations for the arena. But beyond that standard plea, if the council were to vacate Occidental, the letter asked that several conditions be applied to the grant:

  • Place limitations on booking the arena, as has been done with Safeco and the Clink regarding same-day events
  • Grant an easement on the proposed two-lane service road east of the arena for use by cars entering and exiting the Safeco garage
  • Insist on a new arena parking garage of 2,300 spaces
  • Order that two lanes of South Massachusetts Street be kept open at all times during and after construction, in order to provide access to the Safeco garage
  • Order that a sidewalk with a width of 26.5 feet on First Avenue South in front of the arena to accommodate pedestrian volumes for major events at Safeco or the Clink
  • Put a time limit on delays for the Occidental decision

Without going down a rabbit hole of land-use details, those improvements and protections would seem to fall, to a layman’s eyes, into the realm of reasonableness. In fact, it sounds like the beginning of a negotiation between potential neighbors, which would be an enlightened development in this saga.

The letter also gets down to the heart of the conflict with the arena — scheduling, not port job losses or gentrification, two larger themes over which the Mariners have no influence:

At the core of this is event scheduling. If there were no potential conflicts with Mariners games, with the traffic and parking implications of those conflicts, the Mariners would have few concerns with the SODO site. But ArenaCo has indicated its desire to have 200-250 events each year. This is far beyond 41 NBA home games or a similar number of NHL games, and far beyond use principally occurring during the baseball off-season.

Beyond the initial 2011 hyperbole from CEO Howard Lincoln and former president Chuck Armstrong, the pragmatic issue for the ballclub has always been about the arena uses for concerts, conventions, flat shows, etc., that have nothing to do with either an NBA or NHL winter sports season. Those non-sports events are where the Hansen arena, and any modern sports arena, makes money — not pro sports leases.

Additionally, Hansen has proposed creating an entertainment district around the arena, for which he has purchased property. Those hotels, bars and restaurants are usually 365-day operations that can generate sufficient income to put the entire project in the black.

In the letter, no objections were raised about the entertainment district.

The reason for the letter now, aside from a potential vote on the vacation as soon as April 25, is that the Mariners claim they have had no action from Hansen’s ArenaCo planners on scheduling:

ArenaCo has had more than three years to try and get this done, and yet has made no serious attempt to do so. ArenaCo continually tells the City that scheduling is an issue for “later” but it is an issue that must be resolved now. We urge you require ArenaCo to fulfill its obligation under the MOU before Council acts on the vacation – the issue of scheduling is that important.

Hansen probably has his reasons for waiting until after the vacation is granted, but I can also see the Mariners’ side about wanting to understand what the Sodo world might look like before action is taken.

That looks like an item for negotiation, which again is a positive sign.

Where I diverge from the Mariners’ pleas is the insistence on considering a remodeled KeyArena as a better location.

As with the port and the industrial interests, they continue to flog the idea that a report given to the council the past May from arena-building firm AECOM said that $285 million might get the city a tidy barn acceptable to NHL and NBA:

Much has rightly been made of the fact that the City had information on the feasibility of remodeling Key Arena (the AECOM study), but failed to correct the conclusion in the Draft EIS that remodeling of Key Arena was not feasible We urge you to correct this now.

It matters not that the AECOM study was a document separate from the EIS. The MOU, and the EIS itself, combined the consideration of the SODO site with alternative sites. Once having combined them, it is not legally possible to separate them and take the stance that blinders can be put on as to new information about remodeling Key Arena.

As was written here before, for reasons beyond the impossibility of getting a NHL-sized rink to fit under the Key roof, and especially because no private developer will put a dime into it on spec, the idea is DOA. But the Mariners and the port refuse to look at the toe tag.

There is no alternate site in the city, certainly not one that Hansen will fund.

But there is a site he owns that the Mariners are taking sufficiently seriously that they are in a mood to negotiate. Whether that happens in a timely, fair way remains to be seen, but it is possible that reason is leaking into the discussion.


YourThoughts

  • Taylor

    How is ArenaCo supposed to enter into a scheduling agreement when they don’t even know when and if they will be able to build the arena? I’m sure the Ms want a similar deal to the one they got with the Sounders, which is basically “you cow tow to our demands at any time, kthnx.”

    • Kirkland

      Which backfired on the M’s, considering nobody knew the Sounders would have such high average attendance. I’m an optimistic soccer fan, and I thought the Sounders would get around 17,000, not more than twice that.

      • Sonics79

        That’s because the Sounders actually make the playoffs. ; )

      • art thiel

        I don’t think crowd size has been a material difference, except for looking bad relative to soccer.

    • art thiel

      That is Hansen’s argument, but the M’s would probably argue for a maximum number of days that would be arena-first. Say, five from June 1-Oct. 1. But that’s pure speculation on my part.

  • Jamo57

    “Hansen probably has his reasons for waiting until after the vacation is granted…”
    Strategy in negotiations often revolve around who speaks first, and in many circumstances the theory is that whoever speaks first is then at a disadvantage or inferior position. In sales training the student has it drilled into their head that after asking a closing question, “SHUT UP!!!” as the first to speak always loses.
    It’s possible this is where Hansen has been operating from. He’s been flexible and generous on other matters but perhaps can see the boundaries from here, so to speak. And the Ms ivory tower are also businessmen and schooled in such matters.
    Perhaps the Ms finally blinked?

    • art thiel

      Hard to say yet, but the Mariners figured out they blew it publicly by being caustic. Settling on scheduling as the chief issue cuts down blowback, and asking for mitigation of traffic/parking is seen as reasonable.

  • soundersfan84

    Hey art, can you explain Put a time limit on delays for the Occidental decision. Part of me reads that mariners want delay delay delay

    • art thiel

      The Mariners don’t want the issue to drag on once all the facts are in; they think Hansen has been unhelpfully dithering.

      • Jeanine Curtis

        Wait… WHAT??? It’s the arena OPPOSITION that’s been pushing for delays. Sounds to me like someone over there has been filling up punch-cards at the local weed shop.

        • art thiel

          The opposition is not monolithic. The Mariners don’t care about the port’s job losses, and the port doesn’t care about the Mariners’ congestion problems.

          • Jeanine Curtis

            Again, it ain’t Hansen pushing for delays, or asking the Council to “study more” and saying “what’s the rush?”

            Any and all “dithering” has been done by various factions of the opposition. When the Mariners make statements like these, they make themselves look even more obtuse, but then again, they seem to be really good at that.

  • Guy K. Browne

    If the Mariners were to focus their energies on say… Putting a competitive and exciting product on the field, any scheduling issues would largely go away. Modern day sports fans will jump on any passing bandwagon that happens to be carting along a winning team no matter how rutted the road might be to get to the stadium.

    • art thiel

      I’m guessing the M’s can handle more than one chore at a time, but you’re entitled to the skepticism.

      • Guy K. Browne

        Put another way, for the past 12+ years it hasn’t been scheduling conflicts or competition for transportation resources that has caused declining attendance numbers. If they get what should be their core mission corrected, the other issues become mostly moot.

        • art thiel

          I’ve never heard the Mariners say that their attendance decline has anything to with Hansen’s words or deeds. You’re conflating the issues.

          • Guy K. Browne

            Is that not the Mariners concern that conflicting dates will interfere a fan’s ability to get to Safeco field? If not, what is their issue?

          • art thiel

            You were writing about the past baseball failures and shrinking attendance. Hansen’s plan is in the future, where the Mariners could be successful — insert eyeroll here — and believe that schedule conflicts will hurt attendance. I’m not sure that’s true, but that’s up to an agreement between Hansen, the Mariners and the city, which hasn’t happened yet.

  • soundersfan84

    Sounds like the mariners want to bypass city law on same day events and have first dips on all days during their season. To me that should be not allowed per law.

    • art thiel

      I’m sure they would like it, but it would be a negotiation.

      Dips instead of dibs . . . I like it.

      • soundersfan84

        That was an unintentional typo on my part.

  • Sonics79

    In the early 80′s, the Mariners and Sonics SHARED the same stadium, one that also housed shows, concerts, conventions.
    I have no idea how the NBA scheduled playoffs games in Seattle when the M’s were in the midst of a 10-game homestand, but it worked out.
    Surely the M’s can make do with two state-of-the-art stadiums a block apart.

    • art thiel

      The Sonics had to play one playoff game at Hec Ed, but yes, it worked, back when multi-purpose stadiums were fashionable. But I agree, scheduling is negotiable, not inviolate.

      • SeaRaays

        Remember the Tacoma dome…The Wood Shed. Ugh!

        • art thiel

          The Mariners and Root are in no danger of bankruptcy. And the TV rights to NBA/NHL would have to go through Root, so yes, the Mariners would like to see more programming for Root. Just not next door with the building.

      • journeyman22

        They played two at Hec Ed; I was at both. Or maybe I have Brian Williams memory issues.

        It didn’t work well ultimately, because the M’s even then fought with the Sonics over dates. The Mariners would have an off day and say no to a Sonics’ playoff game, because they had the right to hold the building a day before they played. The Sonics worked it out by grabbing dates at three buildings.

  • Jeanine Curtis

    Mariners’ Hypocrisy level: mind-boggling

    • Comrade Suge

      How are they hypocritical? They’re just acting like a big business: looking out for themselves.

      • art thiel

        I think PM’s point is that Sonics fans can’t call Bennett’s actions stealing and then say Hansen’s poaching is merely business. Both are the same, and require identical language descriptors.

        • Jeanine Curtis

          The hypocrisy refers to the fact that Safeco was funded by taxpayers, despite the voters saying “NO!” and had a portion of Occidental vacated for them, now they’re actively opposing the Sodo Arena. Yes, the Ms front office are acting like entitled hypocrites. This is not a good look.

          • art thiel

            If you read the letter I linked to in the column, I think you’ll see that they have backed off the get-off-my-lawn posture and are indirectly indicating terms of a compromise that would allow the arena. Doesn’t mean Hansen will agree, doesn’t mean Mariners won’t sue the city over the MOU, But there is a hint of a path.

          • Jeanine Curtis

            A path that was stipulated in the MOU… 3 1/2 yrs ago.

            “Section 21. Scheduling Coordination. ArenaCo will coordinate with the Seattle Mariners, the Seattle Sounders and the Seattle Seahawks, as well as the Washington State Public Stadium Authority (CenturyLink Field) and the Washington-King County Stadium Authority (Safeco Field), to minimize the number of conflicting and overlapping events held at the existing stadiums and the proposed Arena. The Transaction Documents will include specific provisions limiting the number and duration of such conflicts and providing for City oversight and enforcement of these provisions.”

            I stand by my previous statement. This is not a good look for them. Then again, it sums up the state of their FO in general: a day late, a dollar short, and a few years behind everyone else. Long-suffering Ms fans deserve WAY better than this.

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    • MrPrimeMinister

      You want hypocrisy? Sonic fans excoriating Bennett and his gang for stealing the team, and then turning around and wishing Hansen would do the same to some other fan base.

  • tor5

    I get that there are challenges to a remodeled Key, but as someone who likes the Key and simply hates waste, it’s hard for me to get behind a new Sodo arena without hearing a good plan for the Key. So, what’s the plan? The idea that we (or Hansen or whoever) spend a billion dollars on a new venue with nothing but a “Good luck with your Key problem” drives me nuts. And comparing the Key to a corpse makes me want to cry. We should take off our sports-blinders for a second and think about the city and its facilities as a whole. If the new model is “implode and replace” whenever the venue fashions change, where does it end?

    • Count to 10

      I understand the desire to avoid mothballing Key. However, there are a couple of reasons why the Key won’t work; first among them is its a public building in a public park and no one is currently willing to pay to remodel the Key. The AECOM report said it would cost $285M but that number doesn’t make sense when you look back to when the Sonics left and the estimate to remodel then was $300M. It’s hard to believe the cost has gone down. Second, even if they did find someone to remodel it, it would be the second smallest venue in either the NBA or NHL limiting: the number of seats, the ability to expand and the ability to add amenities to attract patrons. Finally, because it’s in a public park and lower Queen Anne is already developed, there is no way to develop any kind of entertainment district which help make arena projects pencil out. On a separate note, the MOU does include funds to help update and remodel some aspects of Key so it can be used as a temporary venue if we get a basketball team before the new arena is completed (kind of like the improvements to Husky Stadium while the CLink was being built).

      • art thiel

        I know port supporters hate to hear that Hansen’s money has created a single-solution option, but until someone gives the city $285M, the AECOM remodel is pure speculation.

        • tor5

          These are all good points, but I still don’t hear a future for the Key. “Other constituencies”? “A touristy pavilion”? I’m only seeing a cloud of dust. I attended a concert there only months ago and thought it was beautiful. Am I the only one who experiences a little heartache from the writing on the (soon to be demolished) wall?

          • art thiel

            I just wrote one, above.

            It’s all ideas, right now. And I’m not saying the Key is useless. Just needs to be re-purposed — should there be a new, top-end arena.

          • Jeanine Curtis

            Key won’t be demolished. It’s eligible for landmark status. It was built at the same time as the Space Needle for the 1962 World Fair.

    • art thiel

      The building has lasted 53 years, more than twice the Kingdome’s life, plus a $100M remodel 20 years ago. It has served the community well, but can no longer serve big-time pro sports and concerts. If it still has functional utility, it can be re-purposed to serve other constituencies.

    • Jeff Shope

      the key simply put is the worst venue in the country and there is nobody who wants to put money in that mess.

      • journeyman22

        Totally disagree. Nice intimate venue. Great for concerts, smaller capacity events like the WNBA, etc. Not wanting it for the NBA/NHL shouldn’t make anyone anti-Key. Still a great building… for what it will be good at. And Hansen will put some money into it as part of his new arena.

    • http://www.sonicsrising.com/authors/mike-baker Mr Baker, I just live here.

      My personal opinion is that it should revert back to its original purpose, a pavilion that can host events that are smaller than a full size arena.
      It should be restored, stylistically, as close to its 1962 World’s Fair form.
      It should be paid for with part of the remainder of the hotel tax that reverts to the county in 2021 when CenturyLink is paid off.
      There will be about $7 mil annually from that tax on hotels. Seattle’s share should be about 40% of that.
      Use that tourist tax to make Key Arena tourist-y.

    • journeyman22

      We shouldn’t get rid of the Key. It’s a historic building that still has a lot of life left. But the NBA and NHL cannot be hosted there, especially the NHL. This has been a problem for the city’s NHL aspirations since at least the late 70s.

  • http://www.sonicsrising.com/authors/mike-baker Mr Baker, I just live here.

    Currently, Safeco gets $200,000 in parking taxes as a direct subsidy to fund solutions to things like this.
    So, the state should redirect that money to this wish list.
    You’re welcome, Mariners.

    • art thiel

      This is money to the PFD, or the Mariners? And what are “solutions like this?”

      • http://www.sonicsrising.com/authors/mike-baker Mr Baker, I just live here.

        To the PFD.
        Parking in SoDo.
        The claim was that parking was taken before the arena was even shovel ready. I don’t think they have claimed or assumed that Hansen would or could be responsible for that but they identify it as contributing to a problem in their eyes.
        Mariners are not paying to make that up.
        All those arena taxes are set to expire except a slice of this parking tax was in Senator Ed Murray’s bill that saved 4Culture. The city was PO’d that they were given that tax.

        • Jeff Shope

          4culture? sounds like more liberal crap

          • http://www.sonicsrising.com/authors/mike-baker Mr Baker, I just live here.

            Historical “crap”.
            The tax money comes from taxes on hotel rooms. Basically, tourists are paying for those historical information displays at public venues.

            http://www.4culture.org/apply/heritageprojects/

          • Comrade Suge

            You’re free to move to OKC like the Sonics so you can get away from the liberals here.

        • art thiel

          Thanks for the link. The revs go to the PFD, and it’s from the Safeco garage, not Sodo parking. I will check to see what’s happened in the five years since, but I don’t see a connection to the Hansen project.

  • The Cane

    The reality is the Mariners have, at best, little leverage in this matter. If the issue were simply the proposed Arena (for the NBA team that is never coming) versus the Mariners, it would be game, set, match. The Mariners know this and so, of course, they are trying, while they can still can put forth the perception of having some sort of leverage, to have some hand in shaping things. They are asking for substantively little and can expect to get as much. Really, a lot of this is an exercise in introducing their law firm, and the fact they now have such dedicated to the issue, to the powers-that-be. And you forget one thing in your takedown of the Seattle Times’ article on the street closure–the Times’ citing the sliminess of Hanson’s behavior down in Sacramento. Or am I thinking of another article?

    • art thiel

      Far as I can tell, they are asking for things, not telling.

      Regarding Hansen’s deplorable politics in Sactown, he deserves to be shamed. And he has been. Now what?

      And the Port’s arena-related job losses have yet to be quantified, because they can’t be. Global and regional market forces have much greater impact on the port’s future than extra traffic on First Avenue South.

      • MrPrimeMinister

        “Now what”? If he has shown a willingness to be underhanded before, it seems logical to think that he would be willing to do it again. It is historical reality that these sports team owners operate in this fashion. Last time it was Sacramento, next time it could be us.

        • art thiel

          Do you suppose Hansen is smart enough to learn from his mistake?

        • MrPrimeMinister

          As I I indicated, I have no reason to believe that he is any different than the other scheming and manipulative sports owners. If you do, can you divulge?

    • Jeff Shope

      screw the seattle times too baker is a tool from canada no less

      • notaboomer

        make merka hate again!

        • art thiel

          Build that wall along the 49th parallel. Canada will pay, happily,

    • Comrade Suge

      Let me ask you this: how many people in Seattle do you seriously think really care about an arena?

      • art thiel

        How many do you think care about Sculpture Park, McCaw Hall, 1 percent for the arts law, etc? Big-city America is more than sewers and garbage pickup.

        • journeyman22

          Exactly. Amenities matter to the life of a city. And just because one person or another might not be interested in an amenity that’s important to someone else, that doesn’t mean they should be dismissive of it. Those dates will be filled with games and concerts and conventions. I’ll come into the city and spend money, as will thousands of others. AND I’ll enjoy the Sculpture Park’s big giant eraser because… Seattle.

  • Jeff Shope

    mariners should keep their mouths shut the forgot they are only there due to a new stadium taxpayers bought for them. now they want to bitch about someone else getting the same? And do so while putting garbage product on the field? screw those idiots. But there are too many socialist tools in seattle for anything to get done anyway. So theres that

    • Comrade Suge

      It was actually the State Legislature.

    • art thiel

      Mariners aren’t complaining about public subsidy. They’re not THAT dumb.

  • Comrade Suge

    Go build the arena outside of Seattle. We don’t need 3 arenas/stadiums right next to each other. They add little to nothing in terms of the economy (unless you consider service jobs good for the economy).

    As for the NHL, it’s JOKE league. It’s make the MLS look competent.

    • art thiel

      That remains a remote possibility with the Tukwila idea, but that has a long way to go.

      I give Hansen credit for not making the economic-boost claim. With the possible exception of Canadian fans coming to hockey games, there’s no real economic boost from sports spending. It’s merely a re-distribution (substitution effect) of discretionary spending dollars.

  • notaboomer

    entertainment districts are not entertaining.

    • art thiel

      I figured you for a fan of strip clubs. Concussions are rare.

      • notaboomer

        nude hiking as far as i want it to go.

        • art thiel

          I can’t unsee that.

  • Steven Stalter

    I love my M’s and Hawks, but asking Hanson to accept a remodeled Key would be like asking the M’s and Hawks to stay in a remodeled Kingdome! It just wasn’t going to happen! And asking the NBA/NHL moving into a remodeled Key is not going to happen.