Elected officials must resist a contrived rush to close an arena deal
The squeeze to get to "yes" on a Seattle arena should be resisted by politicians in need of answers to questions about the public's role and risks in the deal.
Seattle Times Editorial
IF Chris Hansen and his named and unnamed partners wonder why Seattle is not all giddy about their proposed sports arena, there is a three-part answer: civic and political maturity, well-honed cynicism and the realities of the Great Recession.
No one is likely to stop eager investors from building a sports and concert venue south of two existing stadiums if they want to risk their own money. Chasing after $200 million in public financing to build the $490 million arena invites lots of questions, which have not been answered.
The Metropolitan King County Council anticipates some sort of vote on Monday that is grounded in a thin soup of data.
The council has been told there would be scant economic benefit. Appropriately, there is talk of an independent economic impact analysis before the county commits to perhaps an $80 million investment.
The County Council should not vote to advance this proposal until it has more answers.
For all of the hyped enthusiasm for the return of professional basketball, and, maybe, a professional hockey franchise, the key words shared with the council are substitution and saturation. Fans with limited budgets for expensive diversions make choices.
Money for tickets, trinkets and pricey brews at pro basketball or hockey is likely to come from Mariners baseball, Seahawks football, Sounders soccer or the Storm, women's basketball — and other local dining and entertainment options.
Can the fan base support six pro teams? Why do taxpayers have to take that bet?
Savvy investors covet public participation because governments can borrow at lower rates, for longer periods of time. Costs are financed with debt, not investor cash.
The roiling debate about a public-private partnership does not answer any questions about the future of KeyArena, except to suggest it will always be a valuable teardown. Gee, imagine how much the bare land is worth!
Taxpayers spent $71 million on a Kingdome roof five years before it was imploded. Taxpayers paid for KeyArena renovations that artfully precluded NHL hockey. Then the basketball commissioner declared KeyArena was not glitzy enough by NBA mall shopping standards.
The team left.
Seattle is now contemplating a new arena to possibly anchor other real-estate investments, which stir fears of eroding the industrial and manufacturing activities in the area.
The Port of Seattle is worried about local impacts on the region's economic centerpiece. Questions remain about traffic mitigation, freeway viability and freight mobility. A State Environmental Policy Act review of arena plans is a start.
Allay concerns about taxpayer risk over time. Sports franchises and their well-lawyered owners can pack up and leave. Public debt and encumbered blocks of real estate cannot.
Is the arena proposal the best use of public bonding authority and capacity? Officials need to answer that basic question.