Council members answer questions on Seattle arena proposal
Metropolitan King County Council Member Bob Ferguson and Seattle City Council member Mike O'Brien host a "town hall" meeting about the proposed new arena in Seattle's Sodo District.
Seattle Times staff reporter
More than 200 people packed a North Seattle Community College cafeteria for a boisterous "town hall meeting" Tuesday night on the proposal to build a $490 million sports arena in Sodo, with up to $200 million in public investment.
The first such meeting held outside government buildings was organized by Metropolitan King County Council member Bob Ferguson and Seattle City Council member Mike O'Brien, both of whom live in North Seattle.
Fielding questions and statements — and occasional eruptions of applause and catcalls — Ferguson and O'Brien stressed that they had not made up their minds on the proposal led by hedge-fund manager Chris Hansen. They said they hoped to make the proposal better for the public by hearing from citizens on both sides.
Both said they were looking for more data about key questions, and both did a pretty good balancing act when it came to their views.
Ferguson said he wants his decision to be "driven by independent analysis so it's not just who's speaking the loudest."
O'Brien said he was sympathetic to those who don't think any public money should be spent on pro sports. "I wish there was a different reality, but when you look around the country, just about every sports team requires some public investment. If I turn my back on that, some of the community would be very harmed" because pro sports are important to them, he said.
Many in the crowd wore green-and-gold attire of the departed Sonics, and supporters seemed to outnumber opponents. But skeptics held their own at the microphone, asking roughly as many pointed questions as fans.
Many of the questions revolved around KeyArena — why it wasn't part of the proposal and what would happen to it and the people who still work there — if a new arena were built in Sodo.
Ferguson and O'Brien explained that Hansen has been clear he doesn't want to invest in KeyArena. He has said he wouldn't do it even if the city were to give him KeyArena, according to O'Brien.
"You have to respect his decision," Ferguson added. "He's a private investor putting the money up."
Scott Feldman, an arena supporter, wore a "Sonics Thief" T-shirt with a Starbucks logo on it, a jab at former Sonics owner and Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who sold the Sonics to businessmen in Oklahoma City, where the team now plays. Feldman said KeyArena is a "sunk cost that should not be part of the conversation anymore."
Katy Fogg, a KeyArena stage hand, said good jobs like hers need to be kept no matter the outcome of Hansen's proposal.
Many questions and statements during the 75-minute meeting focused on claims by the Port of Seattle that a Sodo arena would threaten its operations.
Lila Smith, a member of the Inlandboatmen's Union, wanted to know why public officials would jeopardize maritime commerce with a new arena.
Chris Carlson, an arena supporter, asked what data supported the Port's concerns about lost jobs, "because we haven't been given any yet."
Ferguson reiterated his desire for independent analysis of the Port's claims, and whether a new arena near the city's football and baseball stadiums would amount to a tipping point against the Port.
"I'm repeating this, but it's critical, and I think it's something that's been missing. I will be asking for an economic analysis and won't support (the proposal) without it," he said.
Bob Young: 206-464-2174 or firstname.lastname@example.org