BY Art Thiel 02:18PM 03/29/2017

Port hired PR firm to support KeyArena fix

In November, the Port of Seattle signed a $185,000 contract with a Seattle PR firm to offer support for the Seattle Center site for a new arena, instead of Chris Hansen’s Sodo arena plan.

The Port of Seattle is spending money on a campaign to encourage adoption of  the Seattle Center option for a new arena. / Don Wilson, Port of Seattle

As the city of Seattle’s April 12 deadline nears for submission of bids from private developers to re-make KeyArena, the Port of Seattle put some money where its mouth has been. The port in November hired a public relations firm to support the city’s interest in a Seattle Center solution while undercutting Chris Hansen’s arena project on the port’s doorstep in Sodo.

The Puget Sound Business Journal reported Tuesday that the port hired Ceis Bayne & East LLC, also known as CBE Strategic, and consultant Emelie East for a contract worth up to $185,000. Documents that disclosed the deal were obtained under the state public records act.

The port paid CBE Strategic $10,000 a month for the first month, and agreed to pay $5,000 a month for a year after. The contract includes options to renew for two more years.

Since Hansen’s plan for an arena south of Safeco Field was disclosed in 2011, the port has been a strident opponent of the location, saying arena attendees would add more congestion to what it said was an already jammed freight corridor for trucks emerging from the port’s main gate.

Despite a state-mandated environmental impact statement on the Sodo location that said the arena traffic, most of it in the evening, was forecast to be negligible, the Seattle City Council voted 5-4 in May to deny the project’s request for a vacation of two blocks of Occidental Avenue. The council members voting no cited the port’s claim of potential job loss as a reason, even though no direct evidence was presented of cause and effect.

The city in January put out requests for proposals to remodel the arena, absent an anchor tenant since the Sonics left for Oklahoma City in 2008, that could accommodate the NBA and NHL at minimal cost to taxpayers. Two Los Angeles-based developers, Oak View Group and Anschutz Entertainment Group, are responding.

PSBJ’s report said the contract with CBE makes no specific reference to communications or public affairs strategy work on arena projects. It does include unspecified “special projects” tasks and “work with outside stakeholders” and “acting to prevent actions that might prove harmful to the port.”

The story continues:

But the same day the port signed the contract, documents show its public affairs department shared a “Confidential draft communications and outreach plan” with CBE Strategic, which described five essential strategies to support the KeyArena redevelopment and oppose the Sodo project.

The first listed: “Build community understanding about the negative implications of the proposed (Sodo) project and other non-industrial development in Sodo.”

A second strategy: to “provide support for the KeyArena option, whether it might be funding for transportation enhancements or otherwise.”

Six weeks after she was hired, East sent a port manager a draft agenda she’d prepared for a Dec. 22 meeting with port officials. The subject: “Support for Key Arena Redevelopment.”

Thirty minutes of that meeting were to be devoted to potentially building “a Coalition Approach — Key Up Seattle,” the meeting agenda shows.

A spokesman for the port, Peter McGraw, told PSBJ the contract work involved no lobbying of elected officials, and that the port has long opposed redevelopment of non-port-owned industrial lands in Sodo.

Coincidentally, Port of Seattle Commission president Tom Albro disclosed in an interview with KING5 last week that he sent a letter Jan. 24 to fellow commissioners saying he was recusing himself from any port business that involved the Monorail.

Albro and his wife own Seattle Monorail Services, which has been identified by Oak View Group leader Tim Leiweke as a potential asset in the transportation plan for the Key re-make. The Monorail has a two-minute route from Westlake Center to Seattle Center that has been in operation since the 1962 World’s Fair.

Seattle Monorail Services, a private company, signed in 2014 a 10-year contract to run the Monorail. The idea of a Key remodel for pro sports surfaced in a City Council-funded report in 2015.

Two days after the conflict of interest story went public, Albro said he would not seek a third term as commissioner, saying two terms were enough.


  • Topcatone

    PLEASE Seattle, don’t reject Hansen’s amazing offer to build a showplace for NBA/NHL WITHOUT public money! It would be a mistake regretted forever. Has this ever been done, ANYWHERE in the country before? There is NO transportation to Key Arena except buses while the stadiums have trains, light rail, ferry, buses, room for huge parking lots. Sure, fix Key to be a nice concert facility or for lessor attended sports (but with taxes going up, and further taxes for the homeless problem, the public would NEVER vote for it). The PORT is all politics and votes. There was no proof offered of potential job loss (most NHL/NBA are in the evenings or Sat/Sun afternoon when the trucks aren’t running. Hansen should build a private tunnel for the port to get trucks to/from. But, they would come up with some other excuse. The arena will actually of course ADD jobs, construction then hundreds once open. Not the high paying union PORT jobs of course. The union already caused job and business losses as their insane strike drove businesses to find other means of transportation for their products. Off soapbox :)

  • Bryan Clark

    Yes, but how much did they pay the council.

  • wabubba67

    Albro recused himself from any PoS (fitting acronym, huh?) discussion regarding the Monorail…but was he a part of the decision to hire this PR firm? (If successful, the PR firm’s campaign would also benefit Monorail business.)

    Follow the money, Art. Nice work!!

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  • Guy K. Browne

    This is really starting to smell…

    My next question is, who are the principles in the PR firm, and what are their connections to the Seattle City Council (if any)? What amount of money in the “Key” plan would be directed at traffic congestion mitigation? Seems like Albro is looking for external funds to improve a privately owned asset. Nice little piece of business if you can pull it off.

    • MarkS

      The Ceis of Ceis, Bayne and East is non other than former Mayor Gregg Nickels’ Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis.

  • Steed

    The port is a mess! Another arena in the stadium district will not hurt the port, but they seemed determined to kill it anyway.

    I’m voting for GoodSpaceGuy for port commissioner next time.

  • Mark Frost

    This all reads like the fix is already in for the Lower Queen Anne “solution”. I wonder if Mr. Hansen can rally some political support.

  • Harry Balsagna

    Art…public records request to the Port for all Tom Albro emails with city officials regarding the Monorail prior to January. Any lobbying for the Monorail there, and it’s conflict of interest, and a huge shady deal!

  • Nice reporting, Art. What a cynical waste of taxpayer dollars. The Port of Seattle is acting disgracefully.

  • Husky73

    Solid job, Art. “Fixing” or “re-making” Key Arena is dead on arrival. Not gonna happen.