SEATTLE – The King County Council waved no red flags Tuesday during a committee hearing on the Seattle sports arena proposal.
But two council members used the public forum to defend themselves from criticism that they had failed to promote efforts to put a new arena in Bellevue instead.
Councilmembers Kathy Lambert and Jane Hague defended their pro-arena position in response to a letter from two Eastside developers charging that the two Republican councilmembers damaged efforts to build a new sports complex on the Eastside. That letter, sent in September, was written by Skip Rowley of Issaquah and Bob Wallace of Bellevue.
In the Sept. 14 letter sent to a long list of Eastside leaders, Rowley and Wallace claimed the two councilmembers “ignored the interest of their constituents in order to support the Arena and that the SODO arena proposal “is a sweetheart deal for the developer at taxpayer expense”.
“The heavy handed letter was very heavy handed and take it for what it is,” Lambert said at Tuesday's hearing. “I hope that my friends are not former. It’s one of the things about being an elected official, you got to have tough skin. Sometimes people say things you wish they weren’t and move on from there.”
Hague was more direct, noting that Wallace serves on the Safeco Field Public Facilities District Board (his website describes him as the Past Chair of the PFD).
“He’s been on the PFD from the beginning and he knows that some of the unfunded and unmet transportation needs go back to the days of the very first Arena so we need to put this all in perspective,” said Hague. “We have to own up to what we’ve done in the past and how it influences what we’re doing in the present.”
Hague continued, “There are some people that would like to see a hockey team on the Eastside or any kind of an Arena, but there is no Eastside will for it right now, and there is no Eastside funding mechanism to attract a team or investors.”
Wallace, when reached by phone Tuesday, called the letter “old news”. But he stood by its charges. “They both flipped on the issue, just like they did on transit,” Wallace said.
He also said his position on the PFD is not connected to his SODO arena opposition. "It’s not a Safeco Field issue as much as it is a Port of Seattle issue, a regional issue,” Wallace said. He said Key Arena, Memorial Stadium, the old Associated Grocers warehouse site in South Seattle, and Bellevue would be better locations for a new sports complex.
Wallace conceded that barring legal challenge or public outcry, “which there doesn’t appear to be,” the Arena proposal will continue to move forward.
Most of the hearing before the council's Budget Committee was spent reviewing the Seattle City Council's changes to the Memorandum of Understanding with the private group led by Chris Hansen. Council members expressed optimism about the city's changes and voiced their approval of the transportation fund that would be created by the SODO arena proposal.
A pair of council members said they wanted some minor changes. Councilmember Julia Patterson said she would sponsor another amendment to make it clear the fund does not “jump the line” for any federal matching dollars, and that any potential SODO project using federal dollars does not get any preferential position from the county or city.
Lambert said that any environmental reviews of the arena plan should include consideration of a site outside the Seattle city limits. A council staff report indicated the Memo of Understanding reached between Hansen and the city and county would only consider “reasonable alternatives” to the SODO site, and only included a “no action” alternative and alternative site at Seattle Center.
Committee Chairman Joe McDermott said he hopes the council will vote on the revised arena deal as early as Monday, Oct. 15. He said the goal is to have both council vote on the deal on the same day. Another vote in the City Council would be required if the County Council makes any changes to the proposal.