A coalition of maritime and business groups in SoDo wrote a letter Wednesday objecting to the tentative agreement between arena developer Chris Hansen and the Seattle City Council announced Tuesday, saying the rhetoric did not match the details in the amended memorandum of understanding.
“It was represented that the revised MOU merely set up a process by which an arena location would be determined and its impacts on the environment and freight mobility would be assessed,” the coalition wrote. “But the MOU, released only after the close of business yesterday, clearly pre-selects a location and only pays lip service to SEPA.”
The letter, sent to the council's Government Performance and Finance Committee, which is scheduled to vote on the amended MOU Thursday, said the revised MOU does not adequately address concerns about environmental review, state environmental law and study of alternate locations.
Signing the letter were Peter Goldman, environmental attorney; Jordan Royer, vice president of external affairs for the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association; Dave Gering, executive director of the Manufacturing Industrial Council of Seattle, and Bart Waldman, the Mariners' vice-president of legal and governmental affairs.
“If the City Council members approve the MOU as written, they will be locking in the SoDo site prior to any analysis of alternatives – something they said they would not do,” Royer said.
The coalition claims that the amended MOU has become a site-specific document that gives irreversible momentum to the SoDo location and renders toothless any future environmental-impact statement (EIS) studying alternate sites.
But council members have repeatedly said that they can respond only to the offer made, the $490 million basketball/hockey arena at the site immediately south of the Safeco Field. If the amended MOU is approved by the full council as well as the County Council, the EIS -- expected to take a year -- would be commenced, a part of which includes a study of alternative sites, the only known one being KeyArena.
It is possible that other sites, such as Bellevue, will present no problems to the port or the the Mariners, but will not feasible for Hansen, who has said he looked at several sites before rejecting them in favor of SoDo.
"I’ve read the letter and I don’t agree with their analysis," Tim Burgess, a council member who was a principal negotiator of the amendments, wrote in an email Wednesday night. "The MOU is very clear that we will not proceed with a final decision until AFTER the EIS process is complete. Note Recital D which reads in part: “This MOU is intended to be a binding and enforcement agreement of the Parties (a) establishing a process . . . in order to complete necessary reviews, including all environmental reviews . . . and, as appropriate, approve the Transaction Documents . . .” (Emphasis mine.)
"In Section 5, it reads in part: “Before the City and County Councils consider approval of any transaction documents, the City and County will complete a full SEPA review, including consideration of one or more alternative sites, a comprehensive traffic impact analysis, impacts to freight mobility, and identification of possible mitigating actions . . .” (Emphasis mine.)
"We have been very clear that we will hold all final decisions until the SEPA process is completed. I don’t believe we could say it any better."
The coalition, however, is assuming that because the MOU mentions no alternatives, the effect is a done deal.
"This is clear from the first page of the revised MOU, which describes in detail the “Project Site” as the property Chris Hansen has purchased in Sodo," the letter said. "The site, clearly defined as the Sodo location, is mentioned 26 times in the MOU."
“With such language, it’s a fait accompli that the arena will be built in Sodo,” Gering said. “We were all lulled into thinking by the council members’ press conference that the environmental review would be robust, but the text of MOU shows that is not the case.”