City council votes to accept amended arena deal


by Art Thiel


Posted on September 25, 2012 at 3:30 PM

By a 6-2 vote, the Seattle City Council Monday afternoon approved as expected the amended memorandum of understanding with Chris Hansen that advances his proposal to build a $500 million basketball/hockey area in SoDo.

Council members Richard Conlin and Nick Lacata voted no, and Tom Rasmussen was in Copenhagen on business.

A positive vote was virtually assured after the council's finance committee, led by Sally Clark, Tim Burgess and Mike O'Brien, negotiated for weeks with Hansen and his advisers to get more from the deal than the original MOU presented by Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and King County Executive Dow Constantine. The three council members were joined Monday by Bruce Harrell, Sally Bagshaw and Jean Godden in voting yes.

The finance committee's announcement Sept. 11 of the revisions had the approval of a majority of council as well as Hansen, making the Monday vote mostly a formality.

The vote was the latest, but far from final, step in an approval process that next must be considered by the King County Council, which already passed its version of an amended MOU by a 6-3 vote in August. A King County Council budget committee will take up the issue in a special meeting Oct. 2.

Hansen, the Roosevelt High grad and San Francisco hedge fund manager, released a statement: “Today’s City Council vote marks the culmination of a long and productive negotiation process that started with the Mayor and his staff more than a year ago and more recently with the City Council. I want to thank all of Seattle’s elected officials and their staffs for their willingness to roll up their sleeves and work with us to get us to this point.

"I think that today’s vote demonstrates that by listening to each other and working hard to address the concerns of all stakeholders that we can make the arena a reality and bring professional basketball and hockey back to Seattle.

“While we still have a long way to go I am heartened by the tremendous level of support this project has enjoyed. I look forward to working with the county council again as they now consider the modified MOU."

Among the changes Hansen agreed to was supplying up to $7 million to upgrade KeyArena beyond what Hansen was going to pay to house temporarily an NBA team he will attempt to secure after the arena gets final approval.

“Council staff, lawyers and council members have worked hard to produce an agreement that protects the city, charts the right site review process and secures appropriate public benefits,” said Clark, the council president. “Today’s vote closes one phase of tasks and begins another, including work on how we plan for a bright future at Seattle Center.”

Conlin said the deal was good, but not good enough because the city the city is foregoing future tax revenues that would come from a completely privately financed building. Licata objected primarily because the deal would doom KeyArena, apparently failing to realize that his vote to allow the Sonics to buy out the KeyArena lease and leave in 2008 was the council act that most seriously threatened the arena's future.

Presuming the city and county councils work out an inter-local agreement, the next big step is an environmental impact statement. Expected to take about a year, the EIS will consider alternative sites besides SoDo. That's where critics of the arena location, such as the Mariners and the Port of Seattle,  figure to have another say, by insisting that any location outside of the stadium district would create fewer traffic congestion headaches for existing businesses.

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