Arena supporters call it evidence. The Port of Seattle calls them old and irrelevant.
A pair of months-old emails that surfaced Sunday show Port of Seattle leaders downplaying the impact on port operations from a proposed sports arena in the stadium district
Responding to an email from Port Commissioner Gael Tarleton, Mike Merritt, the Port’s manager of government relations, wrote on April 6 that the SODO location for investor Chris Hansen's $490 million arena project could make sense for several reasons.
“Key Arena would have to be demolished and there are landmark issues," he wrote. "A better location is the Memorial Stadium site but that’s owned by the school district. So there would be challenges. The SODO site has the zoning – which is a big deal – and it appears to have the transportation connections to the region – freeways, light rail, bus service.“
More than a month later, on May 18, Port Regional Transportation Director Geraldine Poor was questioned about potential impacts from Mariners games on Terminal 46. She wrote, in response to a email from Steve Queen, the Port’s Container Operations Manager:
“The night games have less of an impact on the terminal (T-46) operator with the 4:20p closure.”
“It affirms what we’ve known all along, that the games happen too late in the day to matter, and they know it,” said Brian Robinson, founder of Arena Solution, a group of civic leaders backing the Hansen proposal. “It tells us what we already knew, that games that start at 7:30 aren’t going to affect their operations to any great degree.”
Hansen has said a vast majority of events at the proposed NBA/NHL facility would occur at night.
However, the Port discounts the emails. “It was very early in the process,” said Charla Skaggs, a Port of Seattle spokesperson. “We hadn’t gathered all the information yet.”
Skaggs said a recent study, commissioned by the Port, shows that existing transportation connections are “already not working.” Skaggs said she believes existing bus and light rail capacity falls short of supplying the demand for the arena, noting the Sound Transit stop is a quarter mile away from the proposed site.
“Night games will affect us greatly,” said Skaggs, pointing to the study by Heffron Transportation, released last week. The study claimed an arena would hinder the Port’s nighttime expansion, and pointed to a Mariners game on June 8. That game had 21,000 fans and helped boost traffic flows roughly 20 percent higher on I-90, near the Port, compared to a non-game day one week earlier. The proposed arena would seat around 18,500 for basketball.
Port Commissioner John Creighton called the report “unsatisfying” because it didn’t include a magic list of solutions.
“I don’t take one day as an appropriate sample size,” said Robinson, “If they want to pull on sample date out of the eight months they’ve had to study this problem, frankly, after the 10 years they’ve had with Safeco Field, their methods are laughable.”
“If they’re going to stand in the way of all these hopes and dreams and construction jobs, they need to show some evidence that supports their fears,” said Robinson.
The Seattle City Council is currently debating Hansen’s proposal, and request for up to $200 million in public financing, repaid by arena generating revenue. It’s believed the Council, in order to approve the Memorandum of Understanding on the project, has asked Hansen to use a share of those future revenues for traffic mitigation instead.