A citizens advisory panel charged with reviewing a proposal for a $500 million basketball/hockey arena in the SoDo District informed Seattle and King County officials Wednesday to go forward with the idea, calling it “an unprecedented opportunity to bring two professional sports teams back to Seattle.”
Greg Smith, a Seattle real estate developer and a member of the Arena Review Panel, declared, “We should ask how to make this happen, not say why it shouldn’t happen.”
By letter and by word, the Seattle Mariners objected, squawking that the arena shouldn’t happen, and wouldn’t, in their neighborhood. Backed in their stance by the Port of Seattle, the Mariners argued that having two new pro sports teams near Safeco (Mariners) and CenturyLink Field (Seahawks/Sounders) would create scheduling conflicts, traffic nightmares and parking problems that would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to mitigate.
(Art Thiel of Sportspress Northwest weighed in on the issues Wednesday: SoDo Arena, The Truth And The Mariners.)
The Mariners say they aren’t opposed to new franchises entering the city’s sporting mix, but that SoDo is not the place for them. The Mariners suggested Bellevue or Renton.
“We had a great relationship with the Sonics before they left (the Sonics did not play right under the Mariners’ noses) and, quite frankly, I was a Sonics fan before I was a Mariners fan,” Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln told ESPN 710 radio. “So we’d love to see the NBA back.
“Our concern is the siting of the proposed NBA arena and the transportation issue and what we anticipate will be the need to expend significant public funds to mitigate the transportation problems we have down there, and to build appropriate infrastructure so the transportation issues are at least eased.
“What we’re saying is, ‘Let’s have a public process that determines the best site for the arena.’ We simply don’t think the site right next to our parking garage works.”
Team president Chuck Armstrong went so far as to tell KJR radio that proposed arena developer Chris Hansen would “rue the day” he built in SoDo.
Despite the Mariners claim that “hundreds of millions” would be required to fix the traffic tangle that would happen with 200 or so event dates at the arena, that didn’t give the Arena Review Panel pause Wednesday, deeming the argument no deal-breaker. In fact, former Seattle City Councilwoman Jan Drago pointed out that the SoDo area is already zoned for stadiums.
“One goal of zoning is predictability,” Drago said. “It’s a stadium district. I don’t think there’s any other place in the city it (a new arena) could go.”
Since Lincoln sent the complaint letter to city and county officials Tuesday, the Mariners have received considerable criticism to the effect that their real agenda is not congestion, parking snafus, or the amount of money it would take to alleviate those issues, but a fear of competition that new franchises inevitably would bring.
Due to their annual on-field feebleness over much of the past decade, the Mariners have lost a significant portion of their fan base, with no end to the bleeding in sight. They have also lost much of their credibility with the public.
So even if the Mariners are right about the cost, congestion and chaos that a new arena would create, they are unlikely to sway zealots such as Smith, who see this is as perhaps Seattle’s best opportunity to return to the NBA.