Quick Thoughts On The Arena

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I have received many thoughtful letters and emails, both in support and in opposition, to the proposal to build a new arena for a basketball and potentially a hockey team in South Downtown.

Like many who have written in support, I am thrilled to think that there may be a way to bring the Sonics – we do have the right to that name – back to Seattle.

However, I also understand those of you who are asking tough questions.  As a Councilmember, I have a responsibility to make sure any deal the city enters into must be the best one for Seattle taxpayers. It’s important that your elected representatives check into the details, assess the alternatives and ensure that city resources are properly protected.

In the past, Seattle has had some ups and downs with sports enterprises. We have lost teams, venues and even money. To repeat mistakes, especially in light of lessons learned, would be irresponsible.

Many of the proposed arena details have yet to be released.  I do know that Seattle native Chris Hansen is asking the City and County to issue approximately $200 million in bonds to purchase land in SODO and build the arena. In two weeks, the Mayor will transmit a memorandum of understanding that delineates obligations of each party (the city, county and Mr. Hansen) in this enterprise. Mr. Hansen has asked for a binding agreement – a contract – in order to assure the NBA that he has the full commitment of the city.

It is a very serious matter to invest over 200 million dollars of taxpayer money. As such, I have many questions about the proposed agreement and potential bond issuance: Is there a business plan? A pro forma, discussing the chances of the enterprise succeeding? Have we vetted the finances of Mr. Hansen’s fellow prospective owners? What about the ability of a city of this size to support seven big ticket sports?

There does seem to be expectation that there will be a transportation study – a look at possible traffic problems associated with the proposed arena. I appreciate that Mr. Hansen has hired a transportation consultant and will make the results available to us. But it likely will be limited in scope. And, given the concerns of the Port of Seattle and Burlington Northern about freight mobility, a study that is not comprehensive may understate a new arena’s effect on congestion.

As you can see, there are pressing questions that must be answered before Councilmembers will be able to take an informed vote. Here are just a few of my most critical concerns:

  • Will additional taxes that the arena will generate cover outlays?
  • What additional city services will the arena require? And where will this funding come from?
  • What added traffic and/or transportation infrastructure will the city need to provide?
  • What about King County? What proportion of the outlay will the county assume? Is it a 50-50 deal? 60-40?
  • Are there alternate sites where an arena might be built?
  • What arrangements will be made for operating Key Arena in light of competition with a new arena?
  • If the city borrows $200 million on this project – apparently a burden that the city could conceivably absorb, although it would almost maximize bonded indebtedness  – what future  projects would the city then be forced to forego?

We have complex and rich history of professional sports teams in Seattle: from the Seattle Pilots and the 1917 Stanley Cup winning Seattle Metropolitans, to our recent additions, the Seattle Storm and Sounders FC. I would like to see this legacy continue for future generations and believe it is possible. However, we must not unnecessarily burden our children and grandchildren if we do not have the best deal possible in front of us.

Going forward, my pledge to you is to be a careful steward of taxpayer’s money. I will work diligently to ensure any deal makes sense for all of Seattle and that we know the full cost and impact to city residents.