The City Council’s Transportation Committee voted 4-1 (O’Brien, Johnson, Harrell and myself voting “yes,” Bagshaw voting “no”) this week on whether or not to approve a conditional street vacation on Occidental Ave S in SODO. A street vacation is a formal process where the City Council decides whether or not to grant public right-of-way in exchange for fair market value and other public benefits.
This street vacation has been sought as part of a proposal to build an arena for basketball and hockey teams. After proposing several amendments to strengthen the conditions of the vacation, I voted to approve the vacation. Here’s why.
Before getting to the specifics of the street vacation decision, I want to first talk about the larger context of the arena project.
The City, King County and the group led by Chris Hansen have a legally binding agreement related to the SODO arena. This agreement was sent to the Council in 2012 by former Mayor McGinn and then renegotiated by the Council. The agreement expires in late 2017.
In those renegotiations with Mr. Hansen, the Council took its role as a steward of city resources seriously. We negotiated significant concessions from ArenaCo, including more financial security for the City and King County and a $40 million transportation fund for the SODO area.
The final agreement includes many pieces, including a binding arrangement for ArenaCo to use KeyArena for a couple years — one of several reasons why we can’t simply put KeyArena on the market as an alternative right now. The agreement also includes a list of prerequisites that must be met before the public financing dollars become available. One of the most important and most challenging of these is the awarding of an NBA franchise to Seattle.
At the time, the renegotiated agreement was hailed as one of the most favorable arena deals for a city in the country.
Street Vacation Decision
The land-use zoning on the site of the proposed arena currently allows for spectator sports facilities like what’s being proposed. The zoning also allows for office buildings. But, the vacation the Council is considering would only be available if the arena project is built as described. That means Mr. Hansen could not use this vacation for any other purpose. It is a conditional vacation and because of one of my amendments adopted in committee this week it will expire in five years (instead of the seven years originally proposed) if the arena is not built.
Street vacations are not giveaways of public land. If the vacation is granted by the Full Council, Mr. Hansen would pay fair market value for the land, estimated to be approximately $18 million to $20 million. The committee adopted my amendment that dedicates this revenue to transportation infrastructure improvements in SODO.
Street vacations are also not unusual or only granted to privileged special interests. Here is a map that shows all the street vacations in the SODO area over the years: there are dozens of them all over SODO.
Here is another map that shows the locations of street or alley vacations requested by the Port of Seattle or granted on land now owned by the Port of Seattle; there are 32 of these street vacations. My point in sharing these maps is to demonstrate that the City has not been shy about using the street vacation process to support the Port and the maritime-industrial community.
The Council grants street vacations when they are determined to be in the public interest. To do this, we look at three components: the impact on the right-of-way and any necessary mitigation, land use impacts, and the public benefit to be provided.
As the Council has reviewed this street vacation, I have come to the conclusion that the mitigating conditions proposed and the public benefits provided are appropriate and sufficient. As such, I voted in support of granting the street vacation at the committee.