Thiel: SoDo arena, the truth and the Mariners

Thiel: SoDo arena, the truth and the Mariners

Credit: KING

Thiel: SoDo arena, the truth and the Mariners


by Art Thiel


Posted on April 5, 2012 at 8:01 AM

Updated Friday, Apr 6 at 8:30 AM

Rather than rely on rhetoric in the first of many dust-ups over the proposed arena, please go to this City of Seattle link to start understanding why frequent SoDo users and businesses, including the Seattle Mariners, are pissed off.

It doesn't make arena builder Chris Hansen or the Mariners right or wrong. It illustrates why this proposal has more vipers per square foot than an Indiana Jones nightmare.

As far back as 2002, the city of Seattle knew the traffic/freight problems were so bad in SoDo after the construction of the two stadiums that something had to be done. An overpass was proposed for South Lander Street that would be the southerly bookend to the overpass at what became Edgar Martinez Way.

The overpass would provide a second way to get into and out of SoDo and toward I-5 for a busy industrial part of town that is way too full of water, railroad tracks and topographical barriers to make for quick, easy navigation.

The city decided in 2003 that the overpass, which would touch down on First Avenue South and Fourth Avenue South, was worth $80 million to the gaggle of users desperate to get beyond the trains and semi-trailer trucks that are delivering our groceries, cars and $150 Nike sneakers made for $5 in China.

As the link shows, design began in February 2007. It stopped in March 2008. Why? According to city sources and news accounts, funding was diverted to the Mercer Street project.

Without getting into pros and cons of one project over another, the fact was that a commitment spanning nearly a decade to SoDo went away. It hasn't come back. In that time, the price tag probably has come close to doubling.

So the question about the SoDo arena project is this: Who pays for the $150 million infrastructure upgrade that everyone, including Hansen, would have to agree is necessary to make a third sports palace work efficiently?

Hansen's proposed $290 contribution presumably doesn't include money for roads. The city owns, creates and maintain the roads.

The $200 million the city and King County are being asked to contribute certainly includes infrastructure improvements. But if the city quit on a project needed in 2002 and priced at $80 million, who thinks the city and county will assign in 2013, after the recession smothered tax revenues, three-quarters of its commitment to one overpass?

More examples of the project's layers and complexity are plentiful. But here's how the arena panel was to have addressed the transportation knot in its report, due for release Wednesday evening and obtained by Sportspress Northwest:

"Further study and assessment of State and City transportation infrastructure and parking availability is necessary to determine the ability of the system to adequately support both maritime/industrial uses and the new arena. Future studies should identify improvements to transportation infrastructure that could enhance access and operation of the Port of Seattle’s cargo operations and other maritime and industrial uses."

Further study? Oh, hell no. The city already studied it 10 years ago and identified the problem. All that has happened is that traffic has gotten worse, and will get worse with the replacement of the viaduct with the tunnel. As the new tolling on the 520 bridge has demonstrated, drivers will go to great lengths to avoid the toll. Same for the tunnel toll. They will pour over the streets of SoDo to get around paying for the hole in the mud.

The Mariners are so agitated about this problem that, in the face of all their baseball failures, they are willing to risk what remains of their tattered cred to be the front-and -center villain for this deed.

They know that the Port of Seattle feels the same way about the arena location. So does SoDo's industrial council. But few members of the public are going to get mad at the port or the council.

However, the public can't wait to jump on the Mariners ownership because of their baseball misdeeds, and the perception that the Mariners' real agenda is fear of competition from other sports franchises that potentially might know what they're doing.

Team president Chuck Armstrong began his campaign Wednesday at a breakfast sponsored by Puget Sound Business Journal at a downtown hotel, then went on air at both sports-talk radio stations, and diligently tolerated every TV and online interview request. He beseeched media members with the argument that it isn't the eight or 10 dates a year in the Mariners' April calendar that might conflict with NBA and NHL dates at the arena.

"The sports teams are the least of our concerns," he said. "To make an arena work, it probably needs 200 event dates. It's all the concerts, flat shows and conventions that concern us."

Judging from the reactions on social media as well as in-boxes and the street, Armstrong wasn't making much headway. That's what happens when a sports team fails to deliver for a long time, and fails to be accountable to its public. Suddenly the time has come again when the franchise needs the emotional and political support it had in 1995, when the first six weeks of good baseball in 18 years bought them $380 million in tax money for a new stadium.

It seems like 10 years since the Mariners strung together six weeks of good baseball. In that epic spell of drought and dreariness, it cost them only in the standings, at the gate and TV ratings. Now, it's costing them in ways they never imagined.

By the Lander Street evidence, the city already was already on record 10 years ago as agreeing with everything the Mariners, port and council are saying now about the traffic problems of SoDo.

But because the Mariners are saying it, few believe them and fewer care. That may be the saddest benchmark of the franchise's decline. They can speak the truth, and most of the public prefers to believe anything but.

The sports public is quicker to believe a hedge fund manager with no experience in real estate development than their own eyes, experience, city documents and ballclub evidence over 12 years.

See what happens when Chone Figgins bats leadoff?

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