A Seattle City Councilmember is telling his constituents that a $490 million proposal to build a new sports arena in SODO looks like a bad deal for taxpayers.
Richard Conlin -- chairman of the council's Land Use, and Sustainability Committee -- last week began explaining his concerns about the arena deal in emails to constituents who contacted him about it. (Read the full text below.)
His blunt assessment is that the arena backers offered "no good reasons ... as to why this project should receive public financial support" and that it is "unlikely" the council will ultimately approve the proposal.
Private investor Christopher Hansen and his partners propose investing $290 million of their own money in building the complex. The remaining $200 million would come in the form of bonds issued by King County and the city of Seattle, with the debt repaid with revenue and taxes generated by the arena. Hansen and his supporters argue that this deal effectively requires no taxpayer funds.
Asked about his assertion that it is "unlikely" the arena proposal will get the council's approval, Conlin told KING 5, "that's speculation on my part. ... I'm very skeptical. I haven't been convinced it's a good proposal."
Council President Sally Clark said it's too soon to predict how the council will vote. "We still have a public hearing to go. Everyone will make up their mind on a particular timeline, and particular set of facts. Richard made up his today, me sometime
in the future."
Clark also said she believes Hansen and his partners have the "general support" of two councilmembers -- Harrell and O'Brien.
Five votes will be needed to pass the arena proposal. A vote is expected as soon as next month.
Here's Conlin's email:
Thank you for your message about the proposed arena agreement. When Mr. Hanson [sic] made his presentation to the City Council, he indicated that there is not a financial plan that requires public investment in this project. There were also no good reasons given as to why this project should receive public financial support, unlike any other business that would like to locate in Seattle. The City works with businesses to manage transportation, land use, and regulatory issues, but we do not invest public money in businesses.
The Council is working through this issue systematically, with a four part test to reach a decision:
1. Would having an NBA team be a good thing? We agree yes, and applaud the efforts of Mr. Hanson [sic] and other investors to find a way to bring back an NBA team.
2. If that requires a new arena, is this the right location? We have some skepticism about both the merits of this location and the impact on Key Arena. We need to continue to review this to understand the impacts and problems of this location, and see if those can be solved by a mitigation plan.
3. Is this an appropriate area for public investment? I have seen no evidence that justifies making a public investment, nor any serious reason why a public investment is necessary for the project to proceed.
4. If a public investment is made, is the public protected as promised? We will continue to review this. It is a complex proposal, and there are many layers that need to be untangled before we are able to come to a conclusion about this. It is not clear that the proposed relocation guarantee, for example, is any stronger than the lease which the Sonics broke when they moved to Oklahoma City. It is not clear whose assets are on the line if the arena becomes insolvent – the arena in Portland (with a team owned by Paul Allen, who certainly has deep pockets) declared bankruptcy, leading to a difficult and challenging financial problem.
On balance, I think it is unlikely that this proposal will be approved. I encourage proponents of a new basketball team to lobby Mr. Hanson [sic] to pursue this as a private enterprise with public cooperation but without the complex financial arrangements and public investment that the current proposal appears to rely on.