Arena's a done deal; finding team is the hard part
The Seattle City Council and Metropolitan King County Council voted Monday to move forward with a Memorandum of Understanding with investor Chris Hansen to build a $490 million sports and entertainment venue with $200 million in public funds.
Seattle Times staff reporters
Metropolitan King County Councilmember Pete von Reichbauer said county and city approval Monday to build a new sports arena in Sodo is like a layover on the quest to summit Mount Rainier.
"Today we're at Camp Muir," von Reichbauer said, suggesting there's still an arduous climb to reach the peak, and possibly some altitude sickness along the way.
The Metropolitan King County Council voted unanimously to move forward with a Memorandum of Understanding with investor Chris Hansen to build a $490 million sports and entertainment venue with $200 million in public funds.
The Seattle City Council approved the amended deal on a 7-2 vote, with Councilmembers Richard Conlin and Nick Licata, who oppose public subsidies for sports facilities, voting no.
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and County Executive Dow Constantine plan to sign the agreement Tuesday in a ceremony with Hansen and elected officials at the Rainier Vista Boys & Girls Club in South Seattle.
The signing will set off a 21-day window for legal challenges. The local Longshoreman Union has said it will sue to have the deal killed because it creates "irreversible momentum" to build the arena in Sodo, in violation of state environmental laws.
After the vote, City Councilmember Tim Burgess defended the agreement, saying it strengthens the deal reached in May among McGinn, Constantine and Hansen by requiring a full environmental review before final transaction agreements are signed.
The agreements also would create a transportation fund to protect freight mobility in Sodo and complete an economic-impact analysis to further examine effects the arena would have on local businesses, manufacturing and port operations.
Burgess said both councils were committed to keeping freight corridors moving and the region's export economy strong.
"The steps we're taking will ensure transportation corridors remain open and accessible," Burgess said.
A group of about half a dozen loyal Sonics fans ran from the County Council hearing, which started just before 2 p.m., to the City Council hearing, which was delayed until after the county vote.
Dawn Welch, who hosts a Facebook page called Sonics Nation, started crying when the county approved the agreement with Hansen.
"When the Sonics went away, I didn't know how to get started. I've been wanting this day to come true for a long time," she said.
Kris Brannon, who goes by the name Sonics Guy and wears a vintage Sonics uniform to government hearings and public sporting events, praised the councils' approvals as one step closer to bringing an NBA team back to Seattle.
"Now Chris Hansen can go get our team," he said.
Hansen will have to buy an existing team and move it to Seattle, because the NBA has no plans to expand beyond its 30 teams.
The list of franchises that could relocate has decreased after the recent sales of the Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Hornets. Several teams — including Milwaukee, Charlotte and Minnesota — are candidates to move, but the Sacramento Kings remain at the top of the list because of the unsteady relationship between team owners and Sacramento city officials.
After a decade-plus battle to find a new home in Sacramento, co-owners Joe and Gavin Maloof agreed to a deal with Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson on a new arena in March. But weeks later the Maloof family pulled out of the deal.
The major obstacle for Hansen to acquire the Kings is the Maloofs' reluctance to sell. Reportedly, they declined a $400 million offer last year and have vowed to keep control of the team.
Also looming as an obstacle is a planned lawsuit by the longshoremen, who began Monday with a news conference denouncing the process that lead to the afternoon votes.
They criticized the six months of secret negotiations McGinn held with Hansen on the arena proposal before making them public in December.
"We have issues with how these negotiations were conducted, behind closed doors and without stakeholders consulted," said Cameron Williams, president of Local 19 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents about 3,000 workers who load and unload cargo at Port of Seattle terminals.
"We're adamant that a site in Sodo is not feasible," Williams said.
Land-use attorney David Mann, who is representing the longshoremen along with environmental attorney Peter Goldman, said state environmental law requires government to prepare an environmental review "as soon as they have a proposal before them."
The union attorneys said the city and county councils should not have approved the 85-page agreement with Hansen that names Sodo as the project site before state-required review of alternate locations and the environmental impacts of each.
Three County Council members who voted against the arena deal in July — Reagan Dunn, Larry Phillips and von Reichbauer — said revisions made to the agreement, including strengthening the environmental review, now satisfy them.
Dunn said he had been concerned that a new arena would be a "cork in a bottleneck" for trucks trying to move freight to and from the Port of Seattle. But the enhanced transportation funding for Sodo projects was key to swaying his vote, he said.
Phillips warned, though, that something in the agreement could go awry — even years from now — because in the changing economics of pro sports "a deal is never a deal."
The independent economic analysis of the proposed Sodo arena could take up to five months, said Joe McDermott, chair of the county budget committee. The state environmental review could take about a year, Burgess said. Hansen has agreed to reimburse the city and county for both.
Representatives for Hansen met last week with the city Department of Planning and Development to lay the groundwork for the permitting and the land-use-approval process for arena construction, said Bryan Stevens, spokesman for the department.
He said the next step will be a public process to determine the scope of the state environmental review. Under the Memorandum of Understanding, Hansen must analyze the Sodo site, a site at Seattle Center, and a no-action alternative.
Times staff reporter Percy Allen contributed to this report.
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