The City of Seattle has put a SODO arena street vacation application on indefinite hold as it negotiates a KeyArena Memorandum of Understanding with the Oak View Group.
That combined with a City Council KeyArena resolution on Monday are the surest signs yet of the political tides in Seattle as it pertains to a future sports complex.
Beverly Barnett, who manages street vacation applications for the Seattle Department of Transportation, said by email that “The City has not prioritized completing its review of the new vacation petition for a proposed SODO arena as the City has been marshalling its resources to consider options for a potential arena at KeyArena.”
In fact, she cited the council resolution, which “supports ongoing discussions for a potential arena at the Seattle Center and asks the Mayor to send legislation and a proposed MOU to City Council this fall. Continued review of the SoDo vacation petition will be guided by these other actions.”
SODO arena lead investor Chris Hansen had filed a new application with the city back in February. At the time, Barnett and others suggested it was a six-month process. However, since then there has been significant movement on a KeyArena renovation, including an Oak View Group bid to build a $564 million complex at Seattle Center.
The resolution, approved Monday by the council, is a non-binding yet symbolic approval of the pursuit of the KeyArena negotiations. Councilmember Debora Juarez noted it shows the council is “resolute in the process of moving forward.”
It came just hours after the Council heard from Economic Development Director Brian Surratt, who explained there had been three all day negotiation sessions with OVG and another is planned. He told the Council he believed there was enough positive movement that a deal could be reached with OVG and it’s CEO Tim Leiweke on an MOU by September 12.
That deal could include an alteration of their previous proposal. Pottery Northwest leaders testified to the council they have been pleased with recent dialogue over the future of the non-profit. The organization has been housed in the Bressi Garage for the last 45 years, and the building has been targeted for demolition in a renovation. However, the Landmarks Preservation Board gave the garage landmark designation earlier this month.
Neal Sofian with the PNW Board of Directors said Monday there have since been discussions with OVG about preserving their future on the Seattle Center campus.
However, despite all the positive momentum for KeyArena, two councilmembers raised a few red flags.
Lorena Gonzalez and Mike O’Brien said they were both concerned about the timeline of the KeyArena process, given a tentative MOU would be submitted just two weeks before the start of the council’s budget cycle. Gonzalez and O’Brien both suggested it would be tough to do a detailed review of the MOU in the midst of the arduous budget cycle.
“There are just some realities about how council works,” she said.
Surratt said he would still like to have a finalized deal with OVG by December.
Gonzalez also noted that the Arena Advisory Committee, formed by the mayor, does not have a transportation expert or engineer.
“Am I missing something in here?” she asked, joking at one point about the lack of a person without transportation background on the committee. “I use public transportation every day to get around the city, but you don't want me planning metro bus route.”
There was also a brief show of support for the SODO arena proposal from an unexpected corner, the local chapter of the NAACP. The organization’s president, Gerald Hankerson, said he was representing the Seattle Community Coalition and said Hansen had personally met with the organization and pledged his support for hiring communities of color and labor for the project.
“It was incredibly unique that the Hansen group came to us,” Hankerson told the council and submitted a letter that Hansen had written to his organization. He then went on to blast the KeyArena process.
“It's been a debacle," Hankerson said. "We've been talking about KeyArena for a decade. SODO arena is the most viable option.”
That letter from Hansen to Hankerson, dated August 10, reads in part:
“This letter reaffirms our commitment to enter into a Community Benefit Agreement (CBA) with the Seattle Community Coalition once the City Council authorizes the conditional vacation of the one block segment of Occidental Avenue South needed to construct the SoDo Arena. This CBA will be developed in close cooperation with the Seattle Community Coalition and focus on fostering equity and social justice and providing meaningful benefits to the communities that will be impacted by the Arena. We pledge to work with the Seattle Community Coalition to identify appropriate issues to be included, such as economic development, targeted local hiring and contracting, employment opportunities with living wages, job training and apprenticeships, community amenities and a mechanism for an ongoing dialog and partnership. Our job and employment work will be done in collaboration with the local construction and trades workers union and other involved unions, with whom we have already pledged to enter into a Project Labor Agreement.”
However, it’s not clear if the letter changed many minds at the council. It’s scheduled to go on summer recess and address a potentially tentative agreement at another committee hearing on September 18.