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Originally published September 13, 2012 at 9:35 PM | Page modified September 14, 2012 at 6:38 PM

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Arena deal OK'd by council panel; final vote expected Sept. 24

A Seattle City Council committee Thursday approved a revised agreement to go forward with planning for a new $490 million basketball and hockey arena in Seattle's Sodo neighborhood.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The celebration at F.X. McRory's was well under way by the time a Seattle City Council committee Thursday approved a revised agreement to go forward with planning for a new $490 million basketball and hockey arena in Sodo.

The measure is expected to go to the full council for final approval Sept. 24.

After that, investor Chris Hansen can begin shopping for an NBA team. Ultimate approval and the commitment of $200 million in public funds will be contingent on results of an environmental-impact study, expected to take about a year.

Although the council committee is typically made up of three members, eight attended and the 7-0 vote with one abstention was viewed as an indication of the deal's likely final passage.

As the council completed its deliberations, roughly 1,500 people gathered at the edge of the stadium district for a free beer from Hansen and a chance to meet the man who wants the Sonics to play in Seattle again.

The San Francisco hedge-fund manager and Seattle native thanked fans for their support and celebrated the preliminary passage of his proposal.

"This is a nice way to say thank you for all of the effort that everybody has put in to talking to the council members," Hansen said. "All the letters they wrote, all the emails they wrote, all of the public testimony they came and gave ... this is to say thank you for all the support."

The vote came over the continued objections of the Port of Seattle and maritime-labor leaders who said the Sodo location and traffic generated by year-round events threatens shipping operations and their jobs.

"Yes, we want a team, but Sodo is the wrong location," said John Persak of the Longshoreman's Union.

Port spokesman Mike Merritt called on the council to delay the vote so commissioners could study the revised proposal.

A prominent environmental attorney, Peter Goldman, criticized the agreement with Hansen for presupposing the Sodo site. He said that under the state Environmental Protection Act (SEPA), public projects should describe a public purpose, not negotiate financial terms for one location.

"This is a done deal disguised behind a year of futile SEPA process," Goldman told the Council.

But a majority of the council said the transportation fund, and a plan to create a Port District to strengthen protections of Sodo industrial lands, met their concerns.

They also pledged to conduct a thorough and unbiased environmental review that included the Seattle Center as a possible alternate arena site.

Councilmember Nick Licata abstained from the vote, and Richard Conlin, who has publicly questioned the city's involvement, did not attend the hearing.

The agreement revises a complex deal reached in May between Mayor Mike McGinn, King County Executive Dow Constantine and Hansen. It addresses one of the key objections to the Sodo location by creating a $40 million transportation fund to ease freight mobility.

It also creates a fund to study the future of Seattle Center and its 50-year anchor tenant, KeyArena, that could become obsolete with the construction of a new state-of-the-art entertainment and sports venue across town.

Licata, who famously said in 2006 that the Sonics added zero cultural value to the city, said he was impressed with the work his colleagues undertook to revise the deal. And he called Hansen's personal guarantee to repay the city and county's $200 million outlay "groundbreaking."

But he said he remained concerned that the city was planning to make a significant investment in one sports facility while "we abandon another."

Several Sonics fans sat through the entire three-hour council deliberations, well past the start of the party at F.X. McRory's.

Ameen Tabatabai, a 20-year-old bioengineering student at the University of Washington, wore the green and gold jersey of former Sonics great Gary Payton.

"A little kid saw me wearing the Sonics uniform and asked what it's like to go to a Sonics game," he told the council members. "I hope you will let a younger generation experience what we had."

Seattle Times sports reporter Percy Allen contributed to this report. Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or lthompson@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @lthompsontimes.

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