KeyArena tour generates buzz on the outside

Seattle's ongoing debate over where to place a new arena took an odd step forward Wednesday. City officials led a tour of KeyArena.

SEATTLE – It was show and tell at KeyArena on Wednesday.

The city, like a real estate broker, conducted a tour of the venerable facility on the Seattle Center campus. It was designed to showcase the facility for developers, but was instead attended by more members of the media than working engineers.

But, it provided a window into the city's thinking about one of the mostly hotly debated and discussed topics in Seattle in for the last decade.

"This is a crown jewel of this asset," said Seattle's Director of Economic Development Brian Surratt, who introduced staffers leading the tour. 

It was a mandated part of the Request for Proposals for KeyArena that the city unveiled earlier this month.  Representatives from AEG and the Oak View Group were both on hand and took the tour, saying very little about their plans.  They had both taken a similar scoping visit before.

But the effort continues to generate buzz about a long insulted, albeit profitable, building on the Seattle Center campus. Yet, for all the talk about what can or what can't be done here, there is genuine interest on the outside of the building from the people who live here.

"Okay, what will this mean? We just moved in," said KEXP Executive Director Tom Mara on Wednesday. 

He helped open the $15 million project on the old Northwest Rooms site in April 2016 and has a desk just a few feet away from KeyArena's north entrance. KEXP has about 75 employees, according to Mara, new studios, library, and a coffee shop. 

"We're a mission discovery based arts association that happens to have a radio station right at 90.3," Mara said.

Mara says KEXP has been pleased thus far with the city's attempts at outreach and noted that their concerns about preserving the north courtyard area, near the arena, were heard. The city's RFP for KeyArena did not include the space, but has offered up land to the south of the arena for possible redevelopment. 

"It'll be great, if it's done well," said Deborah Frausto, who is co-chairing a committee for the Uptown Alliance, the neighborhood group which may have the most at stake with any redevelopment in Lower Queen Anne.  "We will always say show us how it can be done in a residential neighborhood."

Yet, Frausto says she's keeping an open mind, and noted how multi-use facilities have worked in residential areas like AT&T Park in San Francisco, and Chicago's Wrigley Field. 

But she says any redevelopment project will boil down to transportation mitigation.

"We don't have an Uber drop-off for big events at Seattle Center," she said. 

Frausto also says the recent parking study, conducted by Seattle Center, shows significant congestion in the neighborhood for an NBA/NHL capable arena.

"Something would have to change. You couldn't have a hundred nights of that now," said Frausto.

"The traffic strategies surrounding the future of Seattle Center, and KeyArena for that matter, are really key," said Mara. 

The RFP does ask for traffic mitigation strategies and plans in a proposal due April 12. Although, it may take a year and a half to fully understand the traffic impacts of a new arena at Seattle Center.  A large chunk of the parking inventory has been depleted since 2008, when the Sonics left Seattle, including on the west and north sides of the Seattle Center campus.  Hundreds of spots vanished when the Gates Foundation opened up their facility on the east side of Seattle Center.

One developer said Wednesday a new KeyArena renovation proposal "wouldn't be a band aid" on the site.

The arena is actually a renovated Seattle Center Coliseum, which opened in 1962.  In 1995, the roof was redone, and bowl deepened to add more luxury seats, and rechristened with the bank's name.

Mara said he's intrigued to hear more, and of the "potential with working more closely with the producing partner."

The entire process is unfolding even though the city still has a legal memorandum of understanding with Chris Hansen's investment group for a new NBA and NHL Arena in SODO. That deal, signed in 2012, expires in December 2017. Hansen has offered to tear it up and build privately, along with financing part of the Lander Street overpass project, if the city agrees to vacate a one-block stretch of Occidental Avenue South. His group has had multiple discussions with the NBA and NHL since the deal was signed, and was close to acquiring the NBA’s Sacramento Kings in 2013 before NBA owners rejected the sale.

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said Wednesday the NHL has not had any constructive talks with AEG or OVG about KeyArena.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has said he hopes to make a decision on KeyArena by the end of June.

Copyright 2016 KING


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