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Originally published June 19, 2012 at 9:22 PM | Page modified June 20, 2012 at 3:54 PM

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Hey, arena! Save our trolleys

It was bad enough when we lost the Sonics to Oklahoma City. No need to lose our retired waterfront trolleys to St. Louis; connect them to the arena plan.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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Every once in a while, I agree with Danny Westneat. Great idea to have the trolleys... MORE
It's not too late to bring back the streetcars. For more information, please see... MORE
Tie in the old with the new. Good idea! MORE

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It was bad enough losing Boeing to Chicago and the Sonics to Oklahoma City. Now we're selling our iconic waterfront streetcars to ... St. Louis?

And for only a hundred grand, the cost of four minivans. Pretty low price point for your soul.

OK, that was admittedly an exaggeration. But those slowpoke trolleys were so adorable with their vintage wood trim and Seattle-green paint. And they became even more lovable when they were shunned by the city's elites.

The Seattle Art Museum's Olympic Sculpture Park killed the waterfront trolley line, razing its night shed and maintenance barn. Ever since, the five 1920s trolleys have been homeless, squatting in the dark of a Metro warehouse.

Now we're on the verge of buying them a bus ticket to St. Louis.

Even the St. Louis trolley czar who is angling for them thinks we're clueless.

First he talked down the relics, saying other cities are "virtually giving them away." But then he let slip the truth.

"The streetcars will be an attraction all by themselves," he enthused.

Ya think?

Here's an idea. It came to me while watching an old video of our trolleys in action. They were clanging along, glinting green-and-gold. Looking kind of like a Sonics train.

Hey! We're about to build a half-billion dollar basketball palace in Sodo, to bring back the Sonics. Why not shoehorn a night shed on that property and run the trolleys again along the waterfront, through Pioneer Square and then through our stadium district?

We'd have to lay about a half-mile track in the street alongside the stadiums. But otherwise the whole thing is already there, just waiting to be reinvigorated with the spirit of former City Councilmember George Benson. There are nine perfectly good aboveground stations, most of the track, and, not least, those wayward trolleys. Still in fit running trim.

Recently a blue-ribbon committee was convened to improve our lame stadium district. They put out a colorful 70-page report saying the stadium district needs to be tied better to Pioneer Square and the rest of the city to the north.

Under "Enhancing Connections," the No. 1 recommendation is: "What if the streetcar ran from the Olympic Sculpture Park to the Stadiums along the waterfront?"

What if? You could eat at Ivar's or grab a drink at the Market, then hop a historic trolley to the game. Poor Pioneer Square for once would get something other than stepped on.

The key is the trolley barn. Why would developers of an NBA arena let us put one there?

Well, as any St. Louis sharper could tell you, these streetcars are a boon for business (just ask Paul Allen, who helped build one to South Lake Union). And second, the whole arena deal is structured so we the people end up owning the property. We can insist on it!

Another study estimated it would cost about $10 million to give the streetcars a permanent home and get them trolleying again.

Ten million is 2 percent of the arena's price tag. If I was Chris Hansen or Steve Ballmer, I'd toss it in as a sweetener to put their deal over the top.

Or another karmic possibility beckons to the south. The stadium-district plan suggests running the streetcar a few blocks farther down, to Starbucks headquarters. Hmm, who runs that company again? Someone looking to atone for past sins?

It could be a trifecta — save the streetcars, reclaim the Sonics and salvage Howard Schultz's soul. All for no more than a rounding error in a pro-sports project budget.

I know — nothing spends smoother than other peoples' money. But even if these billionaires don't step up, we should save our waterfront streetcars on our own.

For no other reason than losing to St. Louis at this point may be more than Seattle's battered psyche can take.

Danny Westneat's column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or dwestneat@seattletimes.com.

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