BY Art Thiel 06:30AM 04/07/2016

Sodo arena solution gets back to Lander fly-over

Evidence was provided to a city council committee that vacating Occidental would not have big impact. The Port of Seattle would be better served by carrying its fight to another street.

The rectangle represents Chris Hansen’s proposed arena footprint along First Avenue South.. The block south of Holgate Street represents the arena parking garage. / FEIS

If you had to guess, how many times would you say that event-overload might occur in Sodo if the proposed arena joined the Clink and Safeco with an event on the same day?

Guessing about sports-mageddon is what the Seattle Department of Transportation did for part of a presentation Tuesday to the city council’s sustainability and transportation committee at city hall.

No votes or conclusions came from meeting; it was merely the next informative step toward a council vote soon on whether to vacate a block of Occidental Avenue to make way for an arena — should developer Chris Hansen acquire an NBA team before the November 2017 expiration of his deal with the city and King County.

No shovel will be stuck in the suddenly sacred ground of Occidental until the city gets such assurance. But Hansen needs the city’s OK before a successful pursuit is possible. Chicken, meet egg. Egg, meet chicken.

Opponents of the arena location have steadfastly argued that a third venue is too much for the area adjacent to the Port of Seattle that is already burdened by heavy traffic that stymies freight mobility.

In the absence of any attendance numbers still to be agreed upon among Hansen, the Seahawks, Sounders and Mariners, SDOT put together a PowerPoint slide (I swear I stayed awake for all 29 slides).

The presentation made an assumption of 186 event dates for the 20,000-seat arena, which is less than half the capacity of Safeco Field’s 45,000 seats, which is considerably smaller than the Clink’s 70,000.

Another assumption is that “multiple events” means combined attendance of more than 60,000 in Sodo on a single event day.

The chart is below and can also be seen better if the PDF is downloaded here.

The bar chart represents in blue the current usage of the the Clink and Safeco, the green represents event days and attendance estimated for the proposed Sodo arena.

The intriguing numbers are down on the lower right corner. The two bottom lines of the chart add up in blue the number of event days and attendance for the existing two venues. Totaled in green are the estimates of event days for the arena.

The current usage line shows 17 days of 60,000-plus. The estimate for the arena shows an increase to 18.

One more day. That’s all.

Seahawks fans know that 10 of those 17 days have been Sunday football games, give or take a Monday night or Thursday night game. Mariners and Sounders fans may recollect that three or four Sundays last season were shared. The remaining dates SDOT did not explain, but likely were concerts adjacent to a sports event on the same day.

So an estimated one more day of 60,000-plus seems unlikely to bring the port to its economic knees, particularly on a weekend.

The port, the Mariners and the Seahawks are raising their hands saying, “But . . . but . . .” because Hansen has yet to formally propose a scheduling negotiation.

I know SDOT is estimating for now. But real negotiations will happen, pre- or post-vote. The city will insist.

The city is the final arbiter on the transportation agreement among all venues and teams to share the space. So the teams’ argument that Hansen has yet to formally provide his data and negotiate is largely irrelevant. It will be a condition of approval to have caps on shared dates.

In no case will the city permit Hansen to advance the project until all parties have signed off to the same kind of agreement that these days governs the 17 event-use days of 60,000-plus that already governs the Sodo plants.

Just as the city will not allow the project to move ahead without four capital improvements to which Hansen has agreed: A parking garage, a pedestrian bridge at Holgate Street, two new traffic signals and a pro rata cash contribution to the Lander Street fly-over — the bridge identical to the Edgar Martinez Drive fly-over that gets cars and foot traffic over the railroad tracks that define the east border of all three venue sites.

Ah, the Lander Street fly-over.

For 13 years, it has been the ultimate solution to the port’s problems, at least those problems not having to do with the widened Panama Canal, the arrival of super-giant container ships, the superior capacity and efficiency at the Port of Tacoma or the creeping gentrification of Sodo because Seattle’s downtown has only one direction left to grow.

You know what? I agree with the port’s people who say that the genesis of the current Sodo congestion problem was when the city failed the Lander fly-over plan. In 2003, the project was deemed by the city council a priority. Funding was committed and the plan begun.

But by 2008, the city decided that money had to be shifted to un-mess the Mercer Street Mess. However justifiable the reasons may have been, Lander was mothballed and the port felt justifiably screwed.

Now, 13 years later, the can has been kicked up the road to Occidental, which 20 years earlier was partly swallowed to make room for Safeco. Desperate, the port is spending on consultants, PR people and attorneys to make a stand on a dreary side road whose value to freight is negligible.

One of the port’s defenders Tuesday used the phrase “grid flexibility” to describe Occidental’s value; in plain English, an exit route if there’s a jam on First Avenue South. Not persuasive. Also unimpressive was the argument advanced that vacating now would foreclose on future opportunities.

Like what? A 1,000-room hotel that would have traffic 365 days a year? No. There is already an opportunity before the house.

The Hansen plan is going to be fought on several levels, especially the public-loan aspect of up to $200 million. His biggest opponent remains the NBA, which has hinted of no expansion and prefers to keep Seattle empty in order to extort other municipalities. The plan worked brilliantly to get taxpayers in Sacramento and Milwaukee to fund about half of their new arenas.

The port’s energy and effort in the episode would best be put in pressuring the city to move money in the recently passed $930 million transportation package to do what was promised in 2003: Make Lander Street the fast way out of Sodo for freight.

SDOT’s comprehensive presentation was full of many small details that came to the conclusion that the vacation of Occidental does not create a significant impact. Aside from the presentation, the survival of Seattle’s port is affected by larger market forces than the fate of a lightly traveled alley.

The port’s real issue is not with Hansen but with the city council, and over a different street.

The argument is far more compelling, because it has the benefit of being true:

“You owe us.”


  • Jamo57

    “the survival of Seattle’s port is affected by larger market forces than the fate of a lightly traveled alley.”

    Indeed. An alley is the best adjective with which to describe Occidental south of the parking garage. I was at a show at the Showbox SoDo Thursday and parked behind the venue across Occidental. Made a couple of trips back and forth to the car and of course the risk of crossing such a vital traffic artery during rush hour on foot was the source of humor each time. In fact, it was such a sleepy block I had to remind myself to look both ways, once I was about a third of the way across. LOL.

    Here’s my doubts about the Lander St fly-over though. Is the POS just setting themselves up to screw over City of Seattle? By that I mean there’s been talk they may move that freight terminal in 10 years anyway to the Duwamish River and perhaps cruise ships would replace the freight traffic? So is POS merely trying to exact some revenge? Why would the fly-over be so vital for cruise ships?

    And speaking of doubts, this all expires in 11/2017? I’m beginning to think our only hope is some deal to bring an NHL team in.

    Wake me when this is over.

    • art thiel

      There’s lots of rumors and theories about the POS agenda. But the fact that they formed an alliance with the Port of Tacoma tells me they are desperate enough to consider any option.

      • soundersfan84

        How in the world does an arena in Seattle impact Tacoma?

        • Playhouse

          It’s container ship operations. They coordinate it like one entity now. I doubt POT is heavily invested in this fight beyond making sure they operate container movement and because POS asked them to as part of their new partnership.

          • art thiel

            Playhouse is correct. The two ports finally ended their dangerous competition to form an alliance largely to stop undercutting each other’s prices for container work. The arena is of no concern to POT.

  • StephenBody

    While I absolutely agree that building the arena is a great idea and that Chris Hansen and his group have the right to choose to build a facility anywhere they choose – and I think all of this obfuscation is working off an agenda that the Port and, especially, the idiot Mariners haven’t and won’t reveal or even admit to – I have wondered for a LONG time WHY the F*** this city is so hell-bent on cramming everything that involves huge crowds and increased traffic into areas already at or near maximum density. The lower-caliber minds on the City Council continue, parrot-like, to chant, “What’s wrong with Key Arena? What’s wrong with Key Arena?”, after being told a hundred times exactly what IS wrong with Key Arena. And anybody contemplating a sports arena cannot seem to look at a map and see **anything** but SoDo. The DETROIT Pistons play in an arena THIRTY MILES from Detroit. The NEW YORK Giants and Jets play in ANOTHER STATE! The DALLAS Cowboys play in Arlington. Would the earth tilt off its axis if the Seattle Sonics played in Isaquah or Kent or Woodinville? No…wait, it wouldn’t, because the Seattle Thunderbirds DO play in Kent. I don’t really have a dog in this hunt because I’m over the NBA and won’t go back, even if we do get a team. But not having the arena hampers my own desire to have an NHL team, AND I seem to recall a dynamic of functional democracy called “compromise” (google it), which says that, occasionally, one must put the welfare of the many before their own interests. If all the parties involved here could, like, remember that quaint anachromism, maybe we could get this fuggen arena built and put all this stultifying, imbecile-level blather behind us.

    • Jamo57

      For one thing, SoDo is where mass transit all converges. Light rail, regional express buses, and don’t forget the ferry system which works best for Kitsap and Bainbridge residents. It’s where the transit system is now, not 25 or 35 years from now.

      • StephenBody

        That has nothing at all to do with the viability of a new arena elsewhere in the area. The infrastruature for many of these out-of-town arenas didn’t exist until the facility was built and the need developed. Thinking that we can only build in locations in which we already have an over-stressed highway and transportation nexus is typical Seattle short-horizon logic. Using that same rationale, no other area around this region will ever be used as an arena destination. And your argument doesn’t even really work now. Bellevue has locations where a local investment group was formerly working, before Hansen muddied the issue, at building an NHL arena. Perliminary plans were actually on the drawing board. The area is serviced by I-405 and SR 520 and light rail for that location is already in the works. There is also ample room farther south in King County that lies along the existing light rail routes and is adjacent to both I-5 and I-405. Your comment is exactly why this stuff doesn’t get done in this area, because nobody even tries to think of what can happen if you think outside the box.

        • soundersfan84

          So who’s going to pay for an arena in Bellevue? No one’s stopping them from building an arena there.

          There were no $$ investor for a Bellevue arena before hansen showed up.

          • art thiel

            It is up to the private side in this market to make a proposal. Things in the region are changing so fast that it may make demographic sense some day for Bellevue. But not when Hansen decided in 2011.

          • soundersfan84

            Right and right now as long as sodo arena plan is in effect, its going to be more difficult to build a privately funded arena else where in the region. Hence one reason why no one bid for a NHL expansion team from the region. 500m + the cost of the arena makes it very difficult to out right impossible for a NHL only arena to pencil out.

          • The difficulty in private arenas around here has little to do with SoDo and mostly to do with their own viability.
            A hockey only facility in Tukwilla could have easily under cut SoDo had it been financially viable.
            It’s just not.

          • Jamo57

            Some of the reporting I read in the aftermath of Seattle failing to submit an application for an expansion team from the NHL is that the price of real estate on the eastside did in the Bellevue group. The cost to acquire the land and then build the area, added to the high expansion fees being demanded by the league did not pencil out of the investors.

            But I think you are correct that no serious investors were floating alternatives before Hansen got the ball rolling. That guy from Chicago has floated through town of few times but he’s been all talk it seems.

          • soundersfan84

            Levin wanted a free arena on someone elses dime

          • Jamo57

            Indeed. I think we have come to the conclusion that the Hansen plan is the only one that has had any kind of enduring traction.

          • art thiel

            The land Stephen mentioned has indeed become very expensive with Bellevue’s growth. That’s part of why Bartoszek’s arena ended up in Tukwila.

          • StephenBody

            You know that for a fact? Because I DO know for a fact that plans were on the table for a hockey arena in Bellevue in 2007. Investors were on board. No announcement was ever made because they wanted fully-detailed plans before going public and saw no reason to rush. The principals worked the city council and researched the idea to death. Hansen came along and made a big splash and these guys decided, correctly, that trying to promote two arenas would never work, so they backed off. None of that group has backed out. If Hansen fails, they’re more than ready and would be quite willing to include Hansen in a Bellevue arena. But, whether anybody likes this or not, Seattle trumps Bellevue because we are all such desperate homers around here. I wish people would quit posting their views on subjects they have ZERO real knowledge of as facts.

        • Myk

          Just to be clear…your argument is that instead of going to places where VERY expensive mass transit and transportation solutions are being built to support the types of crowds that exist for a sporting event.

          It would be more efficient to build an arena AND additional very expensive mass transit solutions in another location that is already more difficult to access than the current area?

          That isn’t thinking outside the box. That is taking an easy solution and making it significantly more difficult.

        • art thiel

          Suburbs have been under consideration for every Seattle venue except the original Coliseum. Bellevue’s growth may someday dictate an arena, but for a wide variety of reasons, a burb site hasn’t worked. Hansen claims to have looked at all, but Sodo made the most sense to be successful.

          • StephenBody

            Hansen looked…that’s not telling the whole story. There are a couple of other groups who have backed off to see what would happen with Hansen’s plan and they have identified alternate sites that work just fine in every respect. I hope Chris hansen gets to build this arena, I really do. But saying that nowhere else would work is just silly. A lot of arenas have been built in this country without a ready-made set of infrastructure around them and those have encouraged development and speculation. I love this area to death and my 25 years here have been the best period of my life. But I can say that and still observe, with a clear conscience, that we are among the most self-defeating, myopic, fixated, self-obstructing muhfuggers on the face of the earth.Want a clear example? Look at Neyland Stadium at The University of Tennessee and Husky Stadium. Neyland was built one year after Husky Stadium. Neyland is a palace; a virtual temple of reverence for the school and team’s history. It’s opulent and has never dipped much below that description because, when upgrades were needed, the state and city and university cut through the red tape and fixed the place. When I first went to Husky Stadium in 2010, I couldn’t believe it. The place was falling apart! HOW the hell can a city, state, and school with such a rich history and tradition allow the very symbol of their stature to become a dilapidated wreck? Easy: because vision and thinking outside the box and civic WILL is this area’s weakest suit. Looka the monorail. How many times did we vote to extend the damned thing? Three? Four? See any more monorail tracks? It’s a damned miracle when ANYTHING gets done in this state. So why should building a basketball/hockey arena be any different?

        • Bellevue is not interested in paying for the infrastructure that doesn’t exist there, Key Arena will not see light rail plow through SLU for 22 more years, and Tukwilla is only of interest to the NHL and it doesn’t seem to pencil out for a privately funded arena there.
          This is as much a recognition of what is desirable as it is what is possible.
          The only viable location to emerge over the past decade is SoDo.

          • StephenBody

            Well, gee, if I had known that I was addressing the all-knowing mouthpiece for all these civic governments, I wouldn’t have bothered replying. Let’s not make this flimsy pretense of knowing what would happen if some likelihood of an arena deal in Bellevue or Tukwila became an imminent possibility, m’kay? I don’t know anything and even I know more about Bellevue than you do, having been peripherally involved with the principals who want an arena there for the past five years. I don’t know where you’re getting this farcical “Bellevue isn’t interested” stuff but let’s not confuse Kemper Freeman’s pot-stirring about the light rail station with willingness to host an arena. If that plan is ever put before the city council, they’ll pass it. It’s a rock-solid plan, held up ONLY by all this Seattle dicking around with Chris hansen.

          • How did that parking garage financing work out for you?

            And I totally missed Bellevue submitting its expansion request.

            Bellevue has almost been ready as long as you, apparently, became so well connected. The 5 years before that, nearly ready.

          • StephenBody

            If you’d like to try that in English, without non sequiturs, I might be able to respond.

      • art thiel

        While that’s true, it’s also true that a wheel moves slowest at the hub.

        • Jamo57

          And the shortest distance

    • art thiel

      Most league most times prefer an urban location for stadiums for all the obvious transpo reasons. Doesn’t mean suburbs can’t work in some circumstances, including here. But no serious private developer here has found a suburb that wants it enough, or a league that’s willing to accept being outside the fastest growing city in the U.S. Haven’t seen enough evidence yet that the Tukwila idea will truly germinate.

      • soundersfan84

        The issue with Tukwila arena is its basically just the NHL folks that want to build it. You need both NBA and NHL investors to get it to happen.

        As long as Sodo arena plan exists, Tukwila arena will be NHL only and a billion dollars will never pencil out. If Sodo arena plan dies and goes south, then we might see Tukwila arena get going and built.

    • Pixdawg13

      Good points–but you do sort of ignore that Mr. Hanson has purchased a lot of land in SODO.

      • StephenBody

        I’m not ignoring anything. Hansen can build the thing there, for all I care, as long as he can get the city to go along but the Port does have one really solid point: That’s a TON of stuff crammed into an area that’s already crowded and has heinous traffic, even on a good day. And Key Arena is worse. WTF is it about people around this area wanting to shoe-horn massive projects like this into the most problematic sites possible? I sincerely hope that Hansen – who has at least stepped up and DONE something – gets to build his arena and arena district. He deserves to succeed, just for being careful and respectful and persistent. But if this fails, I’m REALLY hoping that we can get past this childish insistence that, to have a team and arena for Seattle, that means we have to force-fit another gigantic building into Seattle. The Detroit Pistons play THIRTY MILES from downtown Detroit. The NY Jets and Giants play in ANOTHER STATE! I don’t think it means we can’t call a team the Seattle Supersonics if they are based in Bellevue.`

  • Art, one more bag on the Port’s list of sandbags, the automated container port at Long Beach that will have trucks unloading AND loading (unlike POS) before they leave the terminal at their new Middle Harbour facility.
    They automate Term 5 or they don’t compete for super sized ships.

    • art thiel

      From what I read and hear, the container shipping business is going to require massive upgrades from all serious ports. POS really does have bigger threats to its future.

      • soundersfan84

        Agreed with that, If i was the IWLU president i’ll be more worried about those upgrades to the ports than i would of an arena. Seriously though, we could see a future where there will be a whole lot less port traffic in Sodo and it has nothing to do with the arena imo.

        • art thiel

          The arena is something the POS can influence. They can’t stop the widened Panama Canal from making it cheaper to ship from Asia to the East Coast.

          • soundersfan84

            True the port is dealing with major issues that has nothing to do with the arena and will continue to deal with those issues if the arena is let say built somewhere else.

            The arena will not kill port jobs. The only thing that will kill port jobs is the business of shipping containers itself. The port right now can not handle the amount of cargo that a heavy hauler like the one that visited Seattle a few weeks ago.

            To make the port to handle moving that kind of amount requires upgrades and thus requires less workers. This is what the ILWU should really worry about and not of the arena.

  • …and without the private money from Hansen there isn’t going to be a Lander Street flyover.
    Saying no to Hansen is saying no to that project.

    • art thiel

      Point taken.

      • soundersfan84

        yea i agree with Baker here. This isn’t the 90’s anymore where the city has plenty of funds to pay for that kind of project. It truly requires a private and public partnership to get things done nowadays.

        • art thiel

          The price tag on the Lander project last I heard was $120M. So it’s going to take Hansen, POS, sports teams and other stakeholders to chip in.

          • Playhouse

            Don’t forget federal monies that they’re going to try to leverage for it.

            And, of course, the Port has been unwilling to speak about any funding let alone how much they’d actually contribute.

          • art thiel

            City first has to make it a priority, which will cause proponents of the projects to scream.

          • soundersfan84

            I believe sdot said its going to be a priority after the levy was approved.

          • Bill Bryant had a few off the cuff comments in his last act as a Port Commissioner.
            He said the city needs to kick in more money and of course the Port wants it to be just for freight. He didn’t mention if the city was to also deliver donuts and coffee.

  • 1coolguy

    Good, informative article Art. You’re correct re: the port getting screwed on Lander – remarkable the city just let it lie, given how critical the corridor is.

    • soundersfan84

      The city is trying to address Lander street overpass but the trouble is it needs funding. City put 20m state put 5min hansen is putting money towards it. POS has to put money towards it.

      • art thiel

        As I wrote below, latest cost estimate is $120M.

    • art thiel

      Thanks. The city often robs Peter to pay Paul. The bill does come due sometime.

  • The Cane

    Thiel says, “But Hansen needs the city’s OK before a successful pursuit is possible. Chicken, meet egg. Egg, meet chicken.”

    LOL. And sometimes the editorializing, er, coverage, goes way off the deep end. As if BUT FOR a few logistical issues around the proposed arena a “successful pursuit” by Hanson would have been, or would be, possible. I am not even going to go any further on that one. Also, this is not just about the impact right around the stadiums. The impact of even two stadium events is substantial quite a ways from the stadium areas. And this is not Philadelphia, where BUT FOR sports teams, there would arguably be no reason to step foot in the city unless one is a tourist.

  • Chris Alexander

    It has long seemed to me that the simplest “solution” would be to simply NOT ask the city to provide any funding and instead just ask them to fast-track the permits once private financing is secured. Realistically, even with Ballmer out of the equation, Hanson probably doesn’t “need” the city’s money; its more like that he wants to leverage their credit rating for better rates on the construction bonds.

    Looking at the opponents of the arena ….. If you eliminate the city’s investment then you eliminate the need for the city to see a profit on their investment. There goes a lawsuit (or 2). Cover the gap on the Lander flyover and you eliminate the port’s argument(s). The Mariners don’t really HAVE an argument since they’d probably BENEFIT from having another arena next door (more parking, if nothing else).

    By my estimate, ~$600m in private funding and this thing would be built. Still doesn’t mean we’d get an NBA team though. Or even an NHL team. And therein lies the rub.

    • art thiel

      According to the deal’s proponents, borrowing with the city’s bonding capacity is the difference between 4% and 8% interest over 30 years, which is a huge savings that makes construction debt affordable for the revs the building is expected to generate. Hansen’s claim is the Seattle market isn’t big enough to generate the revs to sustain a totally privately funded arena.

      • Chris Alexander

        That’s a significant difference. However, it would “only” be a savings of about $6m per year ($512,698.56/month, to be exact) since the rate difference would, in theory, only apply to the city’s $200m investment rather than the ENTIRE cost of the project. Definitely not saying that’s a small amount; just that when you’re talking about a half billion dollar project that gets more and more expensive each year that you wait AND that has the potential of being derailed by opponents before you even put a shovel in the ground …. I would personally start to wonder if the pros outweigh the cons in terms of the funding source(s). Especially since Hanson already has millions (tens of millions?) invested into the project.

      • MrPrimeMinister

        What if the the expected revenues are not generated by the new building? i mean seriously, who proverbially gets left holding the bag under such a scenario??

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        • art thiel

          Hansen has guaranteed the first five years of operations with his personal wealth.