For awhile, I thought Mariners ownership, in the run-up to potential action by the City Council on Chris Hansen’s Sodo arena project, was going to let surrogates at the Port of Seattle and the Seattle Times do the heavy lifting of opposition. The Mariners don’t want the arena there, of course, but they seemed to have learned a lesson about “rue the day” rhetoric.
But they could not remain silent.
In this case, I get their laments. To a point.
After seeing the port’s weak attempts at justifying its position via misleading videos and polls, and the Times calling Occidental Avenue “irreplaceable” despite the fact that the Mariners were granted a vacation of the same street for Safeco Field, the club hired a law firm to make public its case separately.
In a 16-page letter to all council members sent Friday from the Seattle firm of Hillis Clark Martin and Peterson, which specializes in real estate and land use issues, the Mariners took a legal version of an electron microscope to the evidence and conclusions reached by the city’s environmental impact statement and the requirements laid out in the memorandum of understanding among the city, Hansen and King County.
The letter urged that council consider other locations for the arena. But beyond that standard plea, if the council were to vacate Occidental, the letter asked that several conditions be applied to the grant:
- Place limitations on booking the arena, as has been done with Safeco and the Clink regarding same-day events
- Grant an easement on the proposed two-lane service road east of the arena for use by cars entering and exiting the Safeco garage
- Insist on a new arena parking garage of 2,300 spaces
- Order that two lanes of South Massachusetts Street be kept open at all times during and after construction, in order to provide access to the Safeco garage
- Order that a sidewalk with a width of 26.5 feet on First Avenue South in front of the arena to accommodate pedestrian volumes for major events at Safeco or the Clink
- Put a time limit on delays for the Occidental decision
Without going down a rabbit hole of land-use details, those improvements and protections would seem to fall, to a layman’s eyes, into the realm of reasonableness. In fact, it sounds like the beginning of a negotiation between potential neighbors, which would be an enlightened development in this saga.
The letter also gets down to the heart of the conflict with the arena — scheduling, not port job losses or gentrification, two larger themes over which the Mariners have no influence:
At the core of this is event scheduling. If there were no potential conflicts with Mariners games, with the traffic and parking implications of those conflicts, the Mariners would have few concerns with the SODO site. But ArenaCo has indicated its desire to have 200-250 events each year. This is far beyond 41 NBA home games or a similar number of NHL games, and far beyond use principally occurring during the baseball off-season.
Beyond the initial 2011 hyperbole from CEO Howard Lincoln and former president Chuck Armstrong, the pragmatic issue for the ballclub has always been about the arena uses for concerts, conventions, flat shows, etc., that have nothing to do with either an NBA or NHL winter sports season. Those non-sports events are where the Hansen arena, and any modern sports arena, makes money — not pro sports leases.
Additionally, Hansen has proposed creating an entertainment district around the arena, for which he has purchased property. Those hotels, bars and restaurants are usually 365-day operations that can generate sufficient income to put the entire project in the black.
In the letter, no objections were raised about the entertainment district.
The reason for the letter now, aside from a potential vote on the vacation as soon as April 25, is that the Mariners claim they have had no action from Hansen’s ArenaCo planners on scheduling:
ArenaCo has had more than three years to try and get this done, and yet has made no serious attempt to do so. ArenaCo continually tells the City that scheduling is an issue for “later” but it is an issue that must be resolved now. We urge you require ArenaCo to fulfill its obligation under the MOU before Council acts on the vacation – the issue of scheduling is that important.
Hansen probably has his reasons for waiting until after the vacation is granted, but I can also see the Mariners’ side about wanting to understand what the Sodo world might look like before action is taken.
That looks like an item for negotiation, which again is a positive sign.
Where I diverge from the Mariners’ pleas is the insistence on considering a remodeled KeyArena as a better location.
As with the port and the industrial interests, they continue to flog the idea that a report given to the council the past May from arena-building firm AECOM said that $285 million might get the city a tidy barn acceptable to NHL and NBA:
Much has rightly been made of the fact that the City had information on the feasibility of remodeling Key Arena (the AECOM study), but failed to correct the conclusion in the Draft EIS that remodeling of Key Arena was not feasible We urge you to correct this now.
It matters not that the AECOM study was a document separate from the EIS. The MOU, and the EIS itself, combined the consideration of the SODO site with alternative sites. Once having combined them, it is not legally possible to separate them and take the stance that blinders can be put on as to new information about remodeling Key Arena.
As was written here before, for reasons beyond the impossibility of getting a NHL-sized rink to fit under the Key roof, and especially because no private developer will put a dime into it on spec, the idea is DOA. But the Mariners and the port refuse to look at the toe tag.
There is no alternate site in the city, certainly not one that Hansen will fund.
But there is a site he owns that the Mariners are taking sufficiently seriously that they are in a mood to negotiate. Whether that happens in a timely, fair way remains to be seen, but it is possible that reason is leaking into the discussion.