The Seattle SuperSonics basketball team was sold to an Oklahoma City group led by Clay Bennett in 2006. After the voters did not approve the use of taxpayer money to build a new arena in 2007, Clay Bennett began the process of moving the team to Oklahoma City though it was speculated by many that this was the goal since the purchase of the team, especially after emails and interviews came out following the sale discussing those intentions openly (Helman, 2012; Treperinas, 2008). In 2008, the Sonics finally got the approval to move the team.
Since the move of the Seattle Sonics, the city of Seattle has debated on how to attract a new basketball team and what to do with the old Key Arena where the Sonics used to play. A group came forward headed by Chris Hansen in 2012 to build a new area in SoDo where the other Seattle sports stadiums are located. He had the funds and the land to build the stadium and simply needed a team, the vacation of a street, and approval from the Seattle City Council.
What has transpired since 2012 can only be described as a mess. Chris Hansen’s group has failed to secure the necessary approval despite having the best offer available and increasingly making his offer more appealing. Instead, the city council decided that the location was an issue and took offers on a renovation of the old Key Arena. In 2017, a group known as the Oak View Group (OVG) received the winning bid to renovate Key Arena in hopes of bringing back both the NBA and NHL. This plan of only renovating the Key Arena instead of additionally building a SoDo arena as the NBA/NHL arena was not only a worse plan given the location but also financially (Marlowe, 2017).
Chris Hansen first approached Seattle with his arena plan in 2012 and it was deemed by one columnist for the Seattle Times as, “the best deal Seattle has seen in decades” (Westneat, 2012). Unlike the failed attempts by the former Sonics owner Howard Schulz and new owner Clay Bennett, this arena plan did not utilize vast sums of public financing that the voters repeatedly turned down (Allen, 2016; Westneat, 2012). Hansen’s group offered to finance most of the new arena and pay back the cost in public bonds using the revenue from the arena (Westneat, 2012).
There was opposition to this plan. The Port of Seattle argued that the new arena would interfere with operations at the port and hurt jobs, according to a Seattle Times editorial (2012). The port was so against the idea, it commissioned three studies to study the impact of an additional stadium in the SoDo district. All studies conducted of course concluded that the proposal would harm the port (Eaton, 2012). However, a study conducted by Parametrix and released by the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) about the traffic impact found only a modest impact (“Study finds arena would have modest impact on SoDo traffic”, 2012). SDOT backed the vacation of Occidental Avenue South to build the SoDo arena in both 2015 and 2017 (Baker, 2015; Daniels, 2017).
The Port of Seattle utilized questionable tactics to oppose Hansen’s proposal including considering a partnership with The Seattle Times and its editorial board for $290k that would include advertorials in opposition to the SoDo arena (Feit, 2016; Levine, 2017) and spending money on a consulting firm to promote the Key Arena renovation project instead (McIntosh, 2017; Levine, 2017). The Port’s own Commission President, Tom Albro, owns the company that manages the Seattle Monorail, which is the only non-bus form of public transportation that services the Key Arena and would stand to benefit from a Key Arena renovation (Baker, 2017; Levine, 2017). The credibility of the Port of Seattle and The Seattle Times is questionable given these tactics and the Times’ biased reporting.
The Seattle Mariners also opposed the SoDo arena (Kelley, 2012). The Mariners, like the Port, worried about the traffic impact of another arena in the SoDo district and the scheduling conflicts that could ensue, which was also a concern of the other Seattle sports teams. However, this issue was addressed through an agreement with all Seattle sports teams in the SoDo district (Baker, 2017).
All the opposition to the new SoDo arena managed to win a decisive vote of the Seattle City Council in 2016, which decided against the sale of part of Occidental Avenue South that was necessary to build the stadium (Baker, 2016). This was after initially approving the SoDo arena plan in 2012, signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the SoDo arena group set to end in late 2017 (Tucker, 2017), and conducting a study that found only a modest impact on traffic in the area (“Study finds arena would have modest impact on SoDo traffic”, 2012) and after the SoDo arena released an Environmental Impact Statement, which found no negative impacts (Stiles).
In June 2017, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray accepted a bid to renovate Key Arena by the Oak View Group. In July, the University of Washington released a damning public finance analysis on the OVG and SoDo group’s proposals. The analysis concluded the SoDo proposal would make roughly three times the tax revenue for the City General Fund over the next 35 years of the OVG proposal and “…contribute approximately $100 million of property taxes to local governments other than the City of Seattle, especially schools” (Marlowe, 2017) while the OVG proposal would not pay property taxes.
After the OVG bid was accepted by the mayor, Hansen and his group improved their offer and proposed to finance the entire arena privately. Additionally, the SoDo arena group would finance a renovation of Key Arena, which would eliminate the issue of what to do with Key Arena if the SoDo arena were built. The renovation proposal would address issues in the AECOM study the city commissioned and published two years ago, which at the time stated renovations and repurposing would cost $150 million to do and it was not viable to use Key Arena as a secondary venue (Baker, 2017).
The SoDo arena group has addressed every issue that has come up in the process of getting a franchise and building a new arena. When Hansen failed to secure the Sacramento Kings in 2013, city of Seattle abandoned the SoDo arena project and has since done everything it can to work against it starting in 2015 with the city council’s decision to not vacate Occidental. The city has continuously made excuses as to why the arena in SoDo would not work after going all-in in 2012.
The Hansen group’s offer remains the better choice. The SoDo arena would be privately funded (OVG would not), the arena would have ample public transportation in one of the city’s transportation hubs (Lower Queen Anne has a limited public transportation system), the arena would not negatively impact the environment, and the arena would only make a small impact on the traffic in the area (Lower Queen Anne is already a traffic nightmare). Despite all of this and Hansen working on getting a team and the SoDo arena done since 2012, the Seattle City Council, Seattle Mayor, and the Port of Seattle have undermined the project with the help of The Seattle Times. After Hansen’s group offered to renovate Key Arena in addition to everything else, it should have ended the discussion of what to do with Key Arena and where a new NBA/NHL arena would go.
Baker, G. (2015, November 30). Seattle Dept. of Transportation recommends vacating part of street for NBA/NHL Sodo arena. The Seattle Times. Retrieved from https://www.seattletimes.com.
Baker, G. (2016, May 2). Seattle City Council kills sale of street for Sodo arena; Sonics fans despair. The Seattle Times. Retrieved from https://www.seattletimes.com.
Baker, G. (2017, May 7). Addressing the real question in Seattle’s KeyArena-Sodo debate. The Seattle Times. Retrieved from https://www.seattletimes.com.
Baker, G. (2017, March 24). Port of Seattle’s Tom Albro removed himself from arena discussions, citing conflict of interest. The Seattle Times. Retrieved from https://www.seattletimes.com.
Daniels, C. (2017, April 10). SODO arena clears design hurdle in quest for street vacation. King-TV. Retrieved from https://www.king5.com.
Eaton, N. (2012, August 7). Port of Seattle opposes Sodo arena approval without full study. Seattle PI. Retrieved from https://www.seattlepi.com.
Feit, J. (2016, August 4). Seattle Times Publisher Pitched a $290,000 Promo to the Port While the Paper Was Editorializing Against SoDo Arena. Seattle Met. Retrieved from https://www.seattlemet.com.
Helman, C. (2012, June 3). The Sordid Deal That Created the Okla. City Thunder. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/.
Kelley, S. (2012, April 5). Chris Hansen takes high road as Mariners raise red flags over proposed arena. The Seattle Times. Retrieved from https://www.seattletimes.com.
Levine, A. (2017, June 4). Commentary: The Port of Seattle should be KeyArena’s backup plan for renovation funds. Q13 Fox. Retrieved from https://q13fox.com.
Marlowe, J. (2017). A Public Finance Analysis of the Seattle Arena Proposals. Retrieved from University of Washington Website: https://evans.uw.edu.
McIntosh, A. (2017, March 29). Port of Seattle to spend up to $185,000 to support KeyArena redevelopment and defeat Sodo project. Puget Sound Business Journal. Retrieved from https://www.bizjournals.com.
Stiles, M. Seattle board gives partial OK to Sodo arena. Puget Sound Business Journal. Retrieved from https://www.bizjournals.com.
Study finds arena would have modest impact on SoDo traffic. (2012, May 23). Kiro7. Retrieved from https://www.kiro7.com.
Sodo arena: wrong location, bad plan, no public funds. (2012, July 7). The Seattle Times. Retrieved from old.seattletimes.com.
Treperinas, P. (2008, September 17). Why the NBA Will Miss Seattle More Than Seattle Will Miss the NBA. Bleacher Report. Retrieved from https://bleacherreport.com.
Tucker, M. (2017, September 26). No SoDo Arena consideration by city council at this time. Retrieved from https://www.sonicsrising.com.
Westneat, D. (2012, May 29). An arena offer even I can’t refuse. The Seattle Times. Retrieved from https://www.seattletimes.com.
Featured Image: Guilherme Alvares