Suit by arena opponents alleges deal violates terms of I-91

Suit by arena opponents alleges deal violates terms of I-91

Credit: Chris Daniels / KING 5 News

Chris Hansen, leader of the investor group hoping to build a new sports arena in Seattle, speaks to the media with local elected officials regarding the Memorandum of Understanding outlining the project terms.

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by CHRIS DANIELS / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @ChrisDaniels5

KING5.com

Posted on January 16, 2013 at 7:24 PM

SEATTLE – Arena opponents said Wednesday they want to invalidate the revised Memorandum of Understanding governing the $490 million project that was signed in September by Chris Hansen and city and county officials.

Attorney Cleveland Stockmeyer said he is going directly after Hansen in his suit, filed in King County Superior court this week.  It aims to cancel the project, and claims the deal does not comply with voter-approved I-91.  Stockmeyer said he has been working on the filing for several months, and it was not timed to the planned purchase of an NBA franchise.

I-91, passed in 2006, says any public financing for a sports arena in the city must provide a return on the investment equal to the rate of return on a U.S. Treasury Bond.

Mark Baerwaldt, the co-founder of Citizens for More Important Things, is a lead plaintiff on the suit. He said that the threat to sue was made last summer, when he testified before the Seattle City Council. “We specifically said these conditions from I-91 are not met, and it would lead to a legal challenge.”

The terms of the Seattle Arena have changed since then, with Hansen pledging to spend $40 million on transportation infrastructure, and $7 million on Key Arena upgrades. The proposed SoDo arena’s current financing now calls for up to $200 million in public-backed debt, to be repaid by arena revenues. The $47 million in improvements is part of that debt load, meaning Hansen and his investors will spend more private money than originally proposed. City and County leaders suggested this fact strengthens their argument that the proposal was and is I-91 complaint.

“From my perspective, nothing has changed,” said Baerwaldt.  “(I’m doing this) on the behalf of taxpayers”.

The other co-founder of Citizens for More Important Things, Chris Van Dyk, struck a different chord on Wednesday.

He stood by statements made to KING5 last September that the deal was “remarkable,” a “catalyst,” and that he would “move on to more important things.” However, he admitted his friends are concerned about the City following through on the terms of the MOU.

Baerwaldt has been politically active in the past, and it’s not the first time he has squared off against an arena financier.  Baerwaldt was a major contributor to "No on Prop 1" back in 2007.  That group featured prominent Eastside backers, including Bellevue Square Owner Kemper Freeman. Records show Microsoft CEO (and current Hansen parter) Steve Ballmer helped fund the Prop. 1 campaign, donating $100,000 to “Keep Washington Rolling."  Proposition 1, a Roads and Transit Package, was rejected by taxpayers.

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