BY Art Thiel 06:30AM 05/31/2017

Thiel: Murray’s ‘legacy’ may cloud arena choices

Oak View Group backed off the 850-car garage in its arena proposal. But pressure came from the neighborhood, not the Murray administration, which wants a legacy at Seattle Center.

Oak View Group backed off its garage plan at Seattle Center after the neighboring community complained. / Oak View Group

For a man whose political career was abruptly scuttled by scandal, Ed Murray was beaming three weeks ago when the competing bids for remodeling KeyArena were unveiled at a public open house. The Seattle mayor answered questions, shook hands and seemed to take on an air of prideful ownership.

“It’s a legacy project,” he said when I asked him about his enthusiasm. Over his shoulder, through the floor-to-ceiling windows of the KEXP studios on the Seattle Center grounds, loomed the dowager of lower Queen Anne, a swoopy-roofline Norma Desmond, ready for her close-up from Mr. DeMille.

What wasn’t clear from Murray was whether he was talking about his legacy or the building’s legacy. Considering the old Coliseum already has been a legacy for the 55 years since the World’s Fair, I’m going to guess he was talking about his legacy.

Politicians love big, tangible things that last beyond their terms. Bridges, parks, theaters, arenas, stadiums . . . after policies change and words fade, the edifice complex endures.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing. But in this odd case of competing bids for one site and a third bidder for another site, Chris Hansen’s project in Sodo, a fair question arises:

Can a lame-duck mayor and an administration emotionally invested in a legacy outcome make an impartial call on the winning bid — or no bid at all?

It’s obvious to all that Murray, and likely most of the city staff, are understandably eager for a large private investment to revive the arena and Seattle Center. But Monday, a curious thing happened.

Regarding Oak View Group’s plan to build an 850-car garage near the Center to help fix the congestion problems anticipated with many more sold-out events, the Uptown community group — the residents and businesses nearest the Center —  told the OVG garage to drop dead.

So it did.

“The neighborhood doesn’t want a lot of cement buildings added on,” Oak View CEO Tim Leiweke told the Seattle Times Tuesday. “So we came along and re-designed it . . . with a focus on the neighborhood.”

Leiweke told the Times that instead, 400 parking spaces would be added underground, without changing the building design or impacting the new, improved loading docks. More important, OVG said it will privately fund the underground parking –not a cheap solution — and dropped its idea of seeking a contribution from the Port of Seattle to help fund the original structure.

The potential contribution from the port — a spokesman denied recently that the port had discussions with either bidder — was an object of controversy because not only is the port actively opposing the Hansen plan, its funds would be a kind of public contribution the city sought to nix in its request for proposals.

The Hansen group estimated the garage would cost $30 million, the rival Seattle Partners said more like $47 million. Whatever the cost would have been, it wasn’t in OVG’s original bid of $564 million.

Kudos to OVG for being flexible, but the decision means whatever the new cost is for underground parking, it’s an add-on to the original budget, perhaps pushing it close to $600 million.

A spokesman for OVG said a statement was being worked on, but nothing developed Tuesday night.

So that begs another question: How much more financial risk does OVG take on? There has to be a debt load beyond which a developer cannot go, especially for a project in which it owns neither land nor building, unless civic philanthropy is added to the company’s mission statement.

We have yet to hear of other changes the city or the neighborhood may demand. Brian Surratt, director of the city’s office of economic development and point man on the arena, said at the open house he retains “the red pencil” to mark up both bidders’ plans.

And since a neighborhood, not Murray’s administration, won the first push-back, it’s fair to wonder how the administration will represent a neighborhood’s interests if they conflict with the city’s advocacy of the winning bidder.

The city has fast-tracked the arena bid decision, seeking to make a call by the first or second week of June. If the study of both complex bids is going so smoothly, perhaps time could be found to make a plan for what happens when the winning developer says costs have grown sufficiently steep to require give-backs or re-direction of revenue streams to the private side instead of the public side.

At the open house, OVG director of special projects Lance Lopes suggested he may be in the hunt for wiggle room.

“They’ve asked us to fund it privately, which we think we’ve done,” he said. “Again, we will look to capture some incremental, marginal benefits we create to reinvest back in the project (for maintenance and upgrades). But we certainly heard the city loud and clear when they said that they were not interested in helping us fund this project, and we think we’ve answered that question.”

Indeed, they answered it by backing off the garage and its curious funding. But it’s unlikely that will be the last change proposed that will cost the developers (perhaps they hope Jeff Bezos has a spare $100 million for naming rights to Amazonia Arena).

Give-and-take negotiations between municipal governments and private developers happen a lot. But Murray’s eagerness for a legacy building has the potential to put the city in a deal it may regret long after his term expires Dec. 31.


  • dorimonsonfan

    “Happy diggings, Mayor Ed. Just don’t get lost in the dazzle and forget to ask a big question of Seattle Partners: Why did you do it this way?
    If you don’t ask it, many of your potential voters will.”

    Now that potential voters are out the window the only thing Ed gives a rip about is his legacy, as he made clear by stating “It’s a legacy project.” Politicians do indeed love big tangible things, and this is it for him. We need to pump the brakes. I’d be disgusted if this alleged child rapist gets to leave his mark on the center of Seattle before the court system has a chance to sort his past out. The last thing Seattle needs is another reason for the rest of the country to laugh at us. And whichever company is so lucky as to have its name branded on this new stadium (I like Amazonia arena) it should be aware that the more popular name for it is likely to be something like Mole Ed’s Center.

    • art thiel

      He chose to end his term because of the scandal, and that tends to change perspective on priorities.

    • 1coolguy

      He’ll be reduced to giving walking tours of Broadway by the end of the year. Pervs do that I guess. For an extra buck (or a Dick’s with fries) he’ll show you his apartment where he cop’d his BJ’s. Ah yes, other than being Dem, another thing Ed and Bill have in common. Icky people.

  • Hey Buddy

    If the KeyArena remodel doesn’t result in 2 teams coming to Seattle, the city should be ashamed for allowing the “legacy”of an alleged child molester play a role in their decision. The process is complete joke.

    • art thiel

      With this much private money, it’s not a joke. But trusting a lame-duck administration to stay impartial is asking a lot.

  • Mike Carr

    Ed needs to remove himself from the process. He adds nothing and is only large, negative associated with any future stadium. McGinn was Mayor when the SoDo Arena was proposed and was onboard with it. Now, Murray needs to try and put his name on another proposal, makes no sense. Seattle is much better off without any involvement from Ed.

    • art thiel

      Murray won’t have to be accountable after Dec. 31. That doesn’t look good.

  • PqWszROY93

    I think OVG knew the backlash would be coming and made this concession so quickly because it helps them appear like they are giving the city a better deal. And Murray, as a typical politician, will take credit.

    I really hope the SCC scrutinizes and truly understands either proposal that the mayor recommends but I don’t have alot of faith in them based on some of their reasonings for denying the street vacation last year. Some were legit but some were way off, ie Lisa Herbold.

    • art thiel

      I’m sure OVG planned for blowback/changes. But excavating for a 400-car garage is nobody’s idea of a cheap solution.

      • Sally Says

        Excavating was already in there plans and budget so technically a cheap solution. They are simply replacing planned underground marshalling area with 400-car garage.

        • art thiel

          Yes, they were planning to excavate already, 15 feet lower than current, which added $200M to their overall costs, according to Lopes. But I’ll check on the marshaling area. Where did that go?

  • Tom G.

    I think this whole KeyArena story in general has just morphed into being about political ego and saving city property instead of figuring out the best way to bring the Sonics back and Murray wanting a “legacy project” for himself just happens to be a part of it.

    Now I can see why it’d be good for Seattle proper and even Western WA in general to build something better than what Key is now for concerts and the Storm. But if that building can’t EVENTUALLY attract the Sonics/NBA and NHL because it’s run as a “concerts-first” building and there’s not going to be enough financial independence (as I’d call it) for the pro sports teams, then that’s a big hole in these proposals.

    And that to me is the one thing that should give at least the Council some pause if the Mayor won’t be thoughtful and impartial.

    Because I don’t want to just assume the NBA and NHL will plant teams in Seattle because they’re desperate to do so and have no choice. The best/only way to get them to come will be to make them feel like they’ll be profitable, stable and successful here over a number of years.

    • art thiel

      More than the calendar, the private operator needs to grab every part of all building revs to service the debt. In most arena deals, much of that money goes to the team. Not so for either deal here.

      • Tom G.

        Then I’m thinking I’ll eventually see you in Tukwila or Bellevue for the NBA and NHL games if the money ever comes on line there.


    • 1coolguy

      The bottom line is Seattle hasn’t had a true leader in the mayor’s seat for at least a generation, possibly two. Politically the city is lost. The list of under-performing mayors, the Clowncil, etc dominates.

  • Kirkland

    The neighborhood won this round over the garage. Now let’s see what they say about the actual building.

    Murray? Despite the troubling allegations, it’s innocent until proven guilty. Until the courts say otherwise, he’s entitled to stay involved in the arena issue.

    • 1coolguy


    • art thiel

      His right to proceed isn’t in dispute. The ability to make a judgment solely in the best interests of the city is the question.

    • Zeno

      Two words:

  • Eric Sirkin

    I seek asylum from the Seattle Times. Take me in, please. My comments are banned.
    I speak blasphemy by claiming 1) the Port overreaches, 2) Uptown traffic does not have the capacity to handle a renovated Coliseum, 3) Seattle Center will be irrevocably changed, 4) and, finally, that SoDo transportation connectivity is overwhelmingly superior.

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  • DAWG

    Legacy – build a 40-50 story office tower on the old Public Safety Building site.
    Excavation has already been performed saving millions. Light Rail station is
    on the property. Use City credit and bonding capacity to build an income
    generating property that will only bring in more millions as debt is retired. The
    income can go toward affordable housing. Have a restaurant and observation
    floor on top. But, don’t use City credit to make the Seattle Center / Uptown
    unlivable and undesirable with 200 plus events a year. I’m a heretic and blasphemer.

    • art thiel

      Stay anonymous, else be burned as a witch.

  • Kevin Lynch

    Good article, Art. Blogs were interesting as well. 400 spaces underground? What does that account for – 1,000 fans? What if new team is hot and sells out arena? Capacity is what – 17,000? Where is parking? Congestion?

    • 1coolguy

      Sheer madness – the Key vs SODO is an absurd choice.

    • art thiel

      You’ll be using the Monorail or Uber or a self-driving car. Don’t need those old 20th century devices.

  • DAWG

    Godzila and Rodan agree to not eat Port of Seattle container cargo ships filled with Red Delicious apples provided City of Seattle approves Occidental vacation and SoDo Arena.
    We move North to Vancouver, BC and Prince Rupert, BC. ! Savory and tasty ships and container cargo not as good as Seattle. We make big sacrifice though for SoDo Arena.