Voters like Seattle arena idea, but not paying for it, poll shows
Voters in Seattle and King County have generally favorable responses to a proposed $490 million sports arena in Sodo — until the potential to spend taxpayer money on the project is raised, according to a poll released Tuesday.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Seattle and King County voters generally have favorable responses to a proposed $490 million sports arena in Sodo — until the potential to spend taxpayer money on the project is raised, according to a poll released Tuesday.
The Elway poll found that 63 percent of Seattle voters and 61 percent of King County (non-Seattle) voters surveyed said any new professional sports arena should be privately financed and that there should be no risk of any public money being needed to pay for the arena.
"Voters in Seattle and King County do not seem to share their elected leaders' enthusiasm for the proposed basketball/hockey arena in Seattle," said H. Stuart Elway, author of the poll. "Although there is considerable support for the arena concept, arena proponents are a long way from closing the deal with voters."
The poll results were released just as the Port of Seattle sent a letter to the Seattle and county councils asking that their consideration of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with investor Chris Hansen be given close scrutiny.
"To date, the developer has presented no compelling policy or business justification for urgent action on a proposal that has not been fully studied and that could weaken port/industrial businesses that support 33,000 jobs, provide one-third of Seattle's retail tax revenue and generate $3 billion a year in revenue to the region," said the letter, signed by all five Port commissioners.
Arena proponents shot back that the Port's letter lacks specifics about what activities actually are at risk from a new arena.
"I think we all know that industry is not going to just disappear. All these same arguments were made (by maritime interests) about the Ballard Fred Meyer," said Brian Robinson of Arena Solutions in an emailed statement. (The Fred Meyer store opened in 1999 after years of opposition by those who said it threatened working industrial land.)
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and King County Executive Dow Constantine last week announced an MOU with Hansen under which he and a private investment group would pay to build the new arena and to buy a National Basketball Association team. That private investment could be at least $800 million.
The city would issue up to $120 million in bonds to purchase the land in Sodo from Hansen and to purchase the completed arena. The county would contribute up to $80 million, if a National Hockey League team also is secured.
Hansen and his investment group would cover construction costs, ongoing operations and maintenance, and would create a reserve fund equal to three years' debt payment on the building. The public bonds would be repaid through taxes generated by arena events and rent from the sports teams.
In an online chat with Seattle Times readers Tuesday, Hansen responded to reports out of San Francisco that the owner of the Golden State Warriors had announced a $500 million NBA arena proposal that would be privately financed.
Hansen noted the city of San Francisco was donating the waterfront piers on which the arena would be built, as well as a 2-acre parking lot.
"Keep in mind," Hansen wrote, "San Francisco is a much larger market than Seattle and there are likely to be other benefits to this transaction for the Warriors ownership as it relates to real estate, zoning, etc."
Hansen also said he envisions something similar to L.A. Live, an entertainment venue adjacent to Staples Center in Los Angeles, between the proposed arena and nearby Safeco Field.
He noted that the Seattle version would be much smaller than the 27-acre L.A. Live center, which features apartments, ballrooms, bars, concert theaters, restaurants, movie theaters and a 54-story hotel and a condominium tower.
"We definitely don't have broader plans beyond that for hotels or condos or anything like that," Hansen wrote during the chat.
A group of Seattle business leaders announced Tuesday that they were organizing to support Hansen's arena proposal. The group, The Seattle Arena Business Advisory Committee, includes Dwayne Clark, chairman and CEO of Aegis Living; Blake Nordstrom, president of Nordstrom; Andy Jassy, senior vice president for Amazon; and Jeff Wright, chairman of the Space Needle Corp.
A statement released by the group said it was established to help demonstrate that "there is considerable support in the local business community for the proposed arena."
The Port, the Seattle Mariners and maritime businesses have objected to the proposed Sodo location because of potential traffic impacts.
In the Elway Poll, half of county respondents and 49 percent of Seattle respondents said they believed the Sodo location was a good one. Almost the same percentages supported paying for infrastructure necessary to improve transportation around the arena.
But Elway notes that, when asked at the end of the phone survey if they would choose committing taxpayer dollars to the arena versus no arena, 61 percent of Seattle voters and 54 percent of county voters said no arena.
The poll surveyed 201 registered Seattle voters and 207 King County (non-Seattle) voters. The margin of error is 7 percentage points for the separate Seattle and King County samples and 5 percentage points for the combined, countywide data.
Lynn Thompson: 206-909-7580
On Twitter @lthompsontimes