Sonics fans, it’s time to give your heart a break
It’s time to give your heart a break, Sonics fans. And it’s time to give Sodo a break, writes editorial columnist Sharon Pian Chan.
Times editorial columnist
Let me give your heart a break, Sonics fans. To quote songstress Demi Lovato, there’s just so much you can take.
The NBA Board of Governors appears likely to turn down Chris Hansen’s proposal to move the Sacramento Kings to Seattle after a relocation committee rejected the idea.
I want The Squatch back, and I have faith that Seattle will eventually get a basketball team here. But to be honest, I’m grateful for the reprieve from barreling toward building an arena in Sodo.
Watching the city chase after a Sodo arena has been as depressing as the first half of a romantic comedy. That’s the part where our awesome heroine is in love with the guy who is clearly wrong for her. He suggests she needs to lose a few pounds. He pours soy sauce all over her mom’s cooking. Her dog doesn’t like him.
Meanwhile, our heroine is totally overlooking the funny friend played by Steve Carell. The shy, awkward guy with a heart of gold in this movie? It’s Seattle Center.
The Center has been The One all along. It just needs a makeover by Ryan Gosling. (If these references are confusing, download the movie “Crazy Stupid Love” ASAP.)
Seattle Center is 74 acres in the heart of the city, owned by the city. It is the No. 1 visitor destination in the state, with 12 million visitors annually. It’s more than just a gathering place. It’s what the National Mall is to Washington, D.C.
Between 1990 and 2006, $760 million was invested in the Center, $460 million of which came from private sources. And then ... the gush turned into droplets. The Armory, for instance, took $4 million and nicely modernized the Center House.
“You’ve invested hundreds of millions ... ,” said Robert Nellams, Seattle Center director. “I didn’t know we would have to make a much more difficult or in-depth argument for why you would want to continue to maintain something here.”
Consider other massive investments flowing toward Seattle Center. The city is investing $259 million in renovating Mercer Street, and another $3.1 billion for the viaduct that will transform the east side of the Center. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation built its global headquarters next door and Vulcan has redeveloped South Lake Union a few blocks away.
For too long, the city thought too small about Seattle Center.
Let’s dream big. Let’s imagine an elementary school at the Center to serve the 3,000 kids living downtown. How about an international-design competition to remake Seattle Center?
Renovating KeyArena at Seattle Center is not an option, arena investor Hansen said in a Wednesday phone interview. “We cannot tear down KeyArena and play in it at the same time,” he said. “Our deal with the city cannot work unless we have an NBA arena to play in, because neither the city nor us is going to build an arena on spec.”
The answer is to build a new arena where Memorial Stadium stands now. The stadium owner, Seattle Schools, is negotiating with Seattle Center to buy it.
I’m against publicly financing the Sodo arena as in the current proposal, which calls for the city to put up $200 million in public bonds for construction. But I am personally open to publicly financing an arena that benefits the greater good of Seattle Center. All property owners are probably going to pay for a Seattle Center renovation anyway, because the city will likely put a levy on the ballot in a few years.
There are still other factors for Hansen. “We felt the cost of building the arena would be much cheaper and easier in Sodo,” he said, “and as the private developer sponsoring the project, that’s our decision to make.” True, that.
It was the city’s decision to say yes or no. If this city had made Seattle Center the priority, it would have said no to Sodo and devised a financially attractive option at Seattle Center.
It still can. Perhaps the environmental-impact study on the arena proposal will call for mitigation that makes Sodo less financially attractive as an arena site. The study could even name the Center the preferred site.
A newly elected mayor could begin his or her term by putting together a proposal to sell the Memorial Stadium site to Hansen’s investment group at a price that accounts for his real-estate purchase in Sodo and the higher cost of construction in Seattle Center. Hansen seems reasonable enough to consider it seriously.
The Center is The One. It’s been here all along. Let’s commit and live happily ever after.