"Both of them knocked it out of the park."
That's how Seattle's Economic Development Director Brian Surratt summed up the bids made to renovate KeyArena at Seattle Center.
"People are serious about building an arena," said Surratt, during a lengthy conversation at his office on Thursday, still processing the hundreds of documents submitted by AEG and the Oak View Group.
The latter submitted a proposal to essentially gut the existing KeyArena, dig 15 feet deeper, and expand the capacity of the arena to 660,000 square feet. AEG also said it could build a 600,000 square-foot building on site. Both projects are valued at more than $500 million, yet AEG said it is asking for a public financing concept.
"We still have to do a deep dive on the financials," Surratt said.
It will be one of the issues going forward, as it was when Chris Hansen first pitched his arena in SODO back in 2012. Hansen has been criticized by labor and industrial groups and in particular the Port of Seattle over the project, especially with transportation concerns.
However, AEG and OVG will both have dicey political issues to navigate as well. AEG's owner, Philip Anschutz has been accused of having a "conservative agenda," and bankrolling anti-gay groups. Oak View's bid is financially backed by Goldman Sachs, currently fighting a gender-bias suit.
They are all issues which transcend any normal construction project.
Seattle Council President Bruce Harrell says, in a normal world, "(You'd say) let's just look at civic arenas for the structure themselves, does it meet parking needs, affect on jobs and economic development." Harrell, who is also co-chairing the Council's review of the arena projects, says he's aware of the other issues.
"We should have a relationship with these investors, and it becomes important to know who's not only investing in our community but who's extracting profit in our community,” Harrell said. “We hope to have an investor group that has values that align with ours."
Both AEG and OVG have already made inroads in the community. AEG hired Nyhus Communications, led by Roger Nyhus, who is actively involved in LGBT causes. OVG has pledged $20 million for local charitable causes, including $10 million for YouthCare, an organization which provides services to homeless youth.
But both Harrell and Surratt sense the muted response on social media and on local radio to the two half billion dollar offers.
Hansen's bid is still active in SODO and just recently passed a design review again. His street vacation petition is still expected to be forwarded to Council by the Seattle Department of Transportation.
Many people have questioned why the City would go through another arena process, which could take years and prevent the NBA or NHL setting up shop. The NBA and NHL league offices said on Thursday they had no reaction to the Seattle KeyArena proposals.
"You have to build something and they will come," says Harrell, in response to the reaction. "It's gonna be done this year."
"We've gone so long without the Sonics and a professional hockey team it blows my mind," said Surratt. "What I would ask of Sonics fans and hockey fans is stay with us. I think we're on the cusp of something pretty profound."
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