BY Art Thiel 06:30AM 05/10/2017

Thiel: Murray bows out; whither KeyArena plans?

Mayor Ed Murray’s decision to not seek re-election ripples through Seattle sports. He seeks to to serve out his term, but a decision on the KeyArena proposals is due by the end of June. Does a lame duck make the call?

Mayor Ed Murray and husband Michael Shiosaki at a happier moment in Seattle history. /

Since the wiser political seamheads sensed Ed Murray’s political career was doomed the moment sex-abuse allegations became publichis presser Tuesday announcing he would not seek a second-four-year term as Seattle’s mayor wasn’t quite a shocker. Nevertheless, the entire episode qualifies as a taser-grade stunner.

Considered a lock for re-election and gaining some national profile as a defender of Seattle’s sanctuary-city designation in the face of the Trump scorched-earthers, Murray’s heated insistence on continuing, in spite of the claims of four accusers who said he had sex decades ago with them when under-aged, has chilled under the pressure of the growing ordeal.

His emotional speech at Alki Beach hit on the central political point that the allegations  “paint me in the worst possible historic portraits of a gay man.” Beyond the claims of his accusers, for victims of sexual abuse and all who care about them and the issue, the stigma is overwhelming.

“The allegations against me are not true, and I say this with all honesty and with the deepest sincerity,” he said. But his misstep in calling out the criminal records of his accusers and the tawdry episode of denying the claims of his physical characteristics forced a non-legal question: “Is this any way to run a city?”


Yet Murray insisted he will serve out his term to Dec. 31. Which brings us to the matter that invites a sports column: What will the lame-duck final months mean regarding the sports issue upon which Murray has invested no small amount of political capital?

An early answer: Probably not much.

Choosing among three offers to finance privately (mostly) a sports/concert arena is well down the list of civic priorities. But in the political arena, sports always hits above its weight.

Since the matter of returning the NBA (or adding the NHL) to Seattle will in January be on its fourth mayor (three, if former mayor Mike McGinn is re-elected to the office he held from 2012-16), it certainly rates attention simply based on service tenure.

Murray has been openly skeptical about developer Chris Hansen’s ability to deliver team(s) to his five-year quest in Sodo. So much so that Murray invited proposals to rehab KeyArena, a choice spurned by Hansen in 2011. The city received elaborate bids of more than $500 million each from two experienced arena development companies from Los Angeles.

Murray appointed an advisory panel and committed city resources to studying the offer in order to and choose one by a self-imposed June 30 deadline. Hansen’s petition for consideration of his re-done proposal won’t be on the City Council docket until after that.

So Murray’s eventual departure would seem to provide some optimism for the Hansen camp, especially since McGinn, who struck the original Sodo deal with Hansen in 2012, is in the field of candidates. Council president Bruce Harrell, another Hansen supporter, is mentioned by some as possible entrant when filing opens Monday.

Those notions overlook a point I’ve made since the option to remake the Key more substantial than fanciful: Every mayor since the 1962 World’s Fair has, as part of the Seattle job description, an obligation to maintain, upgrade and help make prosperous the Seattle Center, which draws more than 10 million visitors annually. The arena has always been a revenue generator for the public park.

This prime directive is what caused Mayor Greg Nickels and the council to fold on a winning hand in the 2008 lawsuit by the Oklahoma owners of the Sonics to break the lease two years early. In exchange for a $45 million settlement that paid off the mortgage on the 1995 remodel of the old Coliseum, the Sonics were allowed to flee.

Despite the local and national consternation from sports fans over the hijacking, the pols saw a way to erase debt and keep the building generating revenue. Over the last several years, the concert business and a few sports events have generated a cash surplus of about $1 million annually from the arena for the Center. That barely covers power-washing the bird poop, but it’s something.

So even if McGinn, Harrell or another Sodo supporter becomes mayor, he or she will have to think hard about denying a largely private project to improve the Center, no matter the presumed inconvenience to Center neighbors due to increased congestion or previous advocacy for the Hansen project.

Still, there is a chance that after reviewing the bids, the City Council could decide that neither is plausible, for reasons of design, finance or transportation, or the realization that a pro sports owner may be unwilling to put his hugely expensive team in a building he neither owns nor operates.

Option zero would have been highly unlikely with Murray in full campaign mode. Politicians love to have glamorous edifices created on their watches for reasons of legacy. Murray likely would have loaded his withering temper in the forward torpedo tubes and aimed his ordnance at the fools in his way.

As a lame duck, however, he may want to expend his waning leverage on matters of greater civic import.

But defaulting in the arena gambit to Sodo kicks the Key can down the road. What becomes of a 55-year-old arena that is second-tier?

The answer may be somewhere in the several versions of Center redevelopment plans over the years that also include Memorial Stadium and the KCTS building. But that is a consideration for another day.

Hansen and the Key bidders, Oak View Group and Seattle Partners, knew where they stood with Murray’s regime. But now, the civic political game has changed abruptly and is likely to fill up with new players.

Murray said he would run for re-election while fighting the charges. Now he won’t run. He said he will finish out his term that concludes Dec. 31. Will he fulfill that commitment?

The taser tingle lingers.



  • Jamo57

    Another plot twist in the arena saga. What a long strange trip it’s been.

    Glad I dropped the emotional attachment to an outcome months ago. I don’t think I’d be able to make it to the final chapter, particularly as an out of county observer who can only cringe from afar.

    • art thiel

      Given the glacial pace, I recommend everyone disengage the adrenal gland on this issue.

      • Kirkland

        Hard to do when you’ve been waiting more than three decades for the NHL, like I have since I saw my first Thunderbirds game in the Mercer Arena, and Seattle keeps shooting itself in the foot. also hard when you have some voting say in the matter (King County resident) but you’re not in the most important voting bloc (don’t live in Seattle city limits).

        On the political side, have there been cases where a sitting official has chosen to stay in office or run for re-election despite being accused of a scandal? Or are the potential blowbacks enough to say it’s not worth it, even if the accusations are false?

        • art thiel

          I’m sure some have ridden out scandals (Clinton had two terms), but Murray wouldn’t have done this if his polling as well as staff input told him his voters/supporters were still solidly behind him.

          As far as hockey passion, it’s shouldn’t be up to taxpayers to pay for your sports lustings, even though they did for the Key, Clink and Safeco. If the arena winner keeps to the promise of no public funds, we all win in the long run from the change.

          • Kirkland

            I meant, voting for the county and city council members deciding on the arena. My KC member voting yes on the Hansen MOU means little when the Seattle council voted no on Occidental, and because I’m not a Seattle resident I have no ballot sway/pushback against them and they have no incentive to heed my views.

        • Husky73

          Kirkland…You are too young….you needed to watch the Seattle Totems take on the Portland Buckaroos.

  • 1coolguy

    If Murray’s reality check improves SODO’s chances, then his stepping down is already paying dividends.

    • art thiel

      Might be true, but the bigger deal is the view of the person succeeding him.

  • Husky73

    “Neither is plausible” because there are no teams. The NBA is not expanding and no team is moving. The NHL just expanded by one team, which gives them a hedge if/when the Coyotes fold. Another NHL expansion team, is unlikely, and even if it happened it would be in the east, probably Quebec City.

    • art thiel

      The NHL isn’t nearly at the stage of the NBA financially, and wants to be next to Vancouver and Amazon.

  • Steed

    What’s wrong with doing nothing with Key Arena? It’s making money right now. It’s good for what it is used for.

    Neither of the 2 groups that want to renovate Key Arena have done a renovation that attracted a pro team, and it doesn’t look like the Key will be the first, even if they renovate. So what’s the point? Is the Key missing out on certain concerts because it hasn’t been renovated?

    It looks like Seattle will not be getting an NBA or NHL team for many years, if ever. I hope Howard Schultz chokes on a frappaccino.

    On the plus side, the OKC Thunder are out of the playoffs, their SuperStar left them for a better team, and after 2 losing finals appearances, it looks like their shot at a title is over . Now they know the joys of pro sports!

    • art thiel

      The Key is inadequate for the biggest, most profitable shows because of the lack of loading bays (and poor audio) and its interior spaces are way too small, even in 1995.

      If the operations deal is right, the NHL is eager to be here. The NBA doesn’t have to expand to be profitable.

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    • Tman

      When a monopoly exists, because of necessity or convenience, it should be publicly owned.

      Sports teams should be owned by the cities bearing their name, not individuals looking for a tax write off.

      If the city of Seattle owned the Supersonics would they have moved to OKC?

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