New Seattle sports arena a 'job killer,' says Port commissioner

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by KING 5 News and Associated Press

KING5.com

Posted on June 19, 2012 at 12:07 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jun 19 at 7:31 PM

SEATTLE -- Port officials say placing a new sports arena in Seattle's SoDo neighborhood without significant transportation improvements would be a "job killer."

Investor Chris Hansen is working on a deal with King County and the City of Seattle for an arena near the Mariners and Seahawks stadiums that could host NBA and NHL franchises. But business and labor groups oppose that idea, saying a new stadium would exacerbate traffic problems in the industrial area south of downtown.

Port of Seattle Commissioner Tom Albro told the King County Council on Tuesday that a third stadium would be a "job killer" unless a lot of money is spent mitigating the impact of a new facility. Albro said he's not opposed to bringing the NBA back to Seattle, but other locations should be considered.

"Basketball, good. That siting, without massive mitigation, bad," Albro said. "Siting an arena there is a job killer for us."

County Councilman Larry Gossett pushed back against Albro's claim that a new SoDo arena would cost jobs.

"I don't know how you can already be able to make that prediction, when in fact traffic mitigation has already been looked at by the city ... nothing remotely suggests that the building of a stadium in SoDo would be massively bad for our community," Gossett said.

County Councilman Joe McDermott also asked Albro which current Port projects would be impacted. Albro could not come up with an answer.

Albro openly wondered why there is a rush to make a decision.

“We have no team in hand,” said Albro.

The city and county councils are expected to vote on the proposed arena deal later this summer, but McDermott said there is “no artificial time frame” and “no rush” to make a decision. Councilman Pete von Reichbauer said the process may take longer than some people want.

Tay Yoshitani, chief executive officer of the port, told the council's transportation panel that large regional companies like Boeing and Weyerhaeuser depend on the Port of Seattle to get their products to market. Yoshitani said there are already 7,000 daily truck trips to Seattle terminals, rail yards and distribution centers. That could jump to more than 11,000 daily trips as the port expands, he said.

"Our ask is that you please consider all these issues carefully, because we believe a lot is at stake," Yoshitani said.

Hansen has proposed building a nearly $500 million, 18,000-seat arena just south of Safeco and CenturyLink fields. The plan calls for nearly $300 million in private investment from Hansen's group, which includes Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. The amount of public support would be $200 million if an NBA and NHL franchise moved here. New owners moved the Seattle SuperSonics, now known as the Thunder, to Oklahoma City in 2008.

Supporters of the new Seattle arena plan say traffic concerns raised by business and labor are overblown and that most of the events at a new facility would be held at night.

Legality questioned

Former Seattle city councilmember Pete Steinbrueck, now an architect and land use expert, helped pass an ordinance back in 2000 to create a "stadium transition overlay district,” which he says was designed to create pedestrian connections and maintain separation of commercial and industrial development.

He says Hansen's proposed arena would likely violate that ordinance and put area development in quote "non-compliance" with city and county policies.

"To approve that in advance of this analysis raises serious legal questions and is ill advised, I would say,” he said.

Steinbrueck also questions whether an arena could fit within the boundaries of the district.

Hansen, who testified before the county council on Tuesday, says his land investment may be $60 million by the time he's done and he believes it’s perfectly legal.

"The site is in the stadium overlay zone, we've done our homework with the city and county,” he said.

Steinbrueck said at the hearing he was neither for nor against the arena.

However, a website supporting Port Commissioner Tom Albro’s recent election, shows Steinbrueck endorsed Albro, an Arena opponent: (http://www.albroforport.com/endorsements/)

Steinbrueck, reached by phone on Tuesday, acknowledged his support for Albro.  But he claimed Arena proponents are looking for an “alternative agenda”.

The Department of Planning and Development, which enforces city code,  said nothing currently prohibits a third sports complex in Sodo.  DPD Spokesperson Bryan Stevens said in a prepared statement, “The location encompassing the potential arena is located in a zone that would allow the use and within the boundaries of the Stadium Transition Area. An arena is an allowed use in the area and there is no provision that limits the number of stadia.  The Stadium Transition Area centers on large sports facilities and allows uses complementary to them.”

McGinn spokesperson Aaron Pickus said in a statement, “Siting a new arena in the District is legal and appropriate. Chris Hansen’s proposal to return the Sonics to Seattle means more jobs in our city – 2,000 construction jobs and hundreds of permanent jobs. He has purchased land in our Stadium District, which is well served by billions of dollars worth of transportation infrastructure nearby, including I-5, I-90, light rail, ferry and bus service. The Stadium District was created as a unique zone in Seattle for major facilities. It holds Safeco Field and CenturyLink Stadium. And it can hold an 18,500 seat arena for the Sonics and NHL. The creation of the Stadium District was an example of foresight by City planners to encourage future investment in Seattle, centering on large sports facilities and uses complementary to them – there is no provision that limits the number of stadia in the District.

In prior statements to the press and in his testimony before the King County Council today, former City Councilmember Peter Steinbrueck has advocated that an arena should be built in Bellevue, not Seattle. Building an arena in Bellevue would mean a loss of tax revenue, not only from sports but from other major events appropriate for arenas. And it would further challenge an already tough situation with Key Arena. “

“Remember who they work for,” says Steinbrueck, who also called McGinn’s spokesman’s response an “outright false statement.”

Steinbrueck  added that he believes Hansen is not being forthright about his plans for an entertainment district near the proposed site, and “he knows the stadium and parking will not fit into the overlay district.”

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