Arena proposal may get held up by traffic
The Mariners' official line was to welcome potential new NBA and NHL teams, but at least one M's official has reservations. Sodo business and labor interests are also concerned.
Seattle Times staff reporter
When a proposal to build a half-billion-dollar sports arena in Sodo was announced Thursday, the Seattle Mariners released an official statement saying they were excited about the prospect of two new professional teams in the neighborhood.
"From our perspective, it is all about the fans and the community," it said.
But an email three hours earlier from the Mariners' transportation director to members of a Sodo business group expresses serious reservations about the potential impacts to traffic if professional basketball and hockey take up residence in an arena just south of Safeco Field, where the Mariners play, and CenturyLink Field, home of the Seahawks.
"No — the transportation infrastructure is already over capacity; the two existing stadiums already struggle with scheduling overlaps. We want the NBA but in the right location. KeyArena sits vacant with bonds on it — that site should be redeveloped with event facilities spread through the city."
The email was sent by Susan Ranf, Mariners transportation director, and includes the official Mariners logo next to her name. It was sent to more than a dozen people including Mike Peringer, president of the Sodo business association, who was taking an informal survey as a prelude to a more formal response to the arena proposal.
Ranf said she thought the email was a private communication. She said it reflected only her opinion and not that of the Mariners organization.
"I was told it was confidential. It was never intended to be a public conversation," Ranf said Friday. It was forwarded to The Seattle Times by someone who received a copy.
Rebecca Hale, spokeswoman for the Mariners, echoed that sentiment. "It was her opinion, not the party line," Hale said.
Ranf's email was sent at noon Thursday, two hours before Mayor Mike McGinn and King County Executive Dow Constantine unveiled a proposal from San Francisco hedge-fund manager Chris Hansen to privately finance $290 million of a $490 million arena. The public contribution from the city and county would be capped at $200 million, and come from taxes generated directly from the arena.
The new arena would be more of a concern for the Mariners than for the Seahawks and Sounders because the Mariners play far more home games, making it more difficult to avoid conflicts when the seasons overlap in the spring.
While Ranf tried to distance her personal views about traffic from the Mariners' official position, she was not alone in raising those concerns.
Freight mobility and the congestion around the stadiums on game days is an ongoing problem for the maritime and manufacturing industries, said David Freiboth, executive secretary of the King County Labor Council.
Freiboth on Thursday was named to an 11-member Arena Advisory Panel created by McGinn and Constantine to review Hansen's proposal.
While the main work of the panel is to examine the financing plan and ensure it protects the city and county, Freiboth said any discussion of the arena's viability must include the impacts to the Port of Seattle and other businesses along the waterfront and in Sodo.
"The freight connections on Edgar Martinez (Boulevard, between Safeco Field and CenturyLink Stadium) are already held up by stadium traffic. We continue to lose industrial capability in this town and that means jobs, good jobs," Freiboth said.
Peter Philips, president of the Seattle Marine Business Association, said the arena would force the closure of a section of Occidental Avenue South, a main route through the Sodo neighborhood.
Philips said the arena would be filled with events year-round, not just during basketball and hockey season, and that road capacity in the area has been reduced because of the Highway 99 viaduct-replacement tunnel project. A planned tolled tunnel is expected to divert more traffic to surface streets, he said.
Freight mobility and traffic also are likely to be issues for the Seattle City Council as members review the arena plan. Council members said Friday that they would conduct their own examination of the financing plan and taxpayer protections under the arena proposal.
The city and county councils must approve any sale of bonds to finance arena construction.
"We clearly have a responsibility to do our own review," said City Councilmember Tim Burgess, chairman of the Finance Committee. Burgess said that any examination must include freight mobility and traffic. Additionally, he said, permitting and environmental reviews for an arena project will include impacts to the surrounding neighborhood.
"I think it would be great if we could bring basketball back to Seattle and attract a hockey team," he said. "This is not about trying to block or slow down the project. It's about doing our fiduciary duty."
Seattle Times staff reporter Mike Lindblom and columnist Steve Kelley contributed to this report.
Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @lthompsontimes.