Paying for transportation improvements key to Seattle arena debate

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by CHRIS DANIELS / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @ChrisDaniels5

KING5.com

Posted on September 26, 2012 at 9:15 AM

SEATTLE -– If you stand at the corner of First Avenue South and Atlantic, you’re looking at the crossroads of industry and sports.

It’s a vital intersection for Port of Seattle freight traffic ... and any sports fan trying to get to or from Interstates 5 and 90.

That intersection is the start of State Route 519 -- the short stretch of highway that connects the two interstates to the stadium district.

And how the SR 519 project was paid for could guide the conversation about a future SODO sports arena.

“It really had to do with supporting the truck traffic here on the street,” said Dave Gering, executive director of the Manufacturing Industrial Council.

Gering supported the construction of the SR 519 on and off ramp to help maritime and port mobility. “It is always an issue.”

SR 519 was finished in 2010 after years of discussion.  State and federal funds covered $78.35 million of the construction cost. The Port of Seattle contributed $5.5 million, and the Seattle Mariners put up $500,000.

WSDOT spokesperson Jamie Holter said the Seahawks were not involved in funding the project. State lawmakers, including House Ways and Means Director Ross Hunter and House Transportation Committee Chair Judy Clibborn, said they did not believe the Seahawks, the Washington State Public Stadium Authority, or First and Goal contributed.

PFD Spokesperson Steve Woo said Thursday the stadium district had set aside $450,000 for a pedestrian ramp and other traffic mitigation efforts, although a spokesperson for the Seattle Budget office could not immediately confirm if Seahawks money was used.

Seattle City Council President Sally Clark said Tuesday she’d like the group advocating a new sports arena in the stadium district to contribute something towards traffic improvements. She suggested that a portion of arena revenue could be used to “pay for the debt and infrastructure in the area.”

She also said lead arena investor Chris Hansen would not be expected to fix all of SoDo’s problems.

Hansen’s amended deal, approved by the King County Council on Monday, calls for his investment group to spend $290 million in private money. He's asking for up to $200 million in City/County bonding, to be repaid by taxes on arena business.  That $200 million is capped, but only if Hansen secures NBA and NHL franchises for the building.  Hansen is asking for $120 million if he can only secure an NBA franchise.

Hansen has thus far declined comment on the City Council’s suggestion, other than to say he’s willing to listen.

So is a $500,000 contribution from Hansen's group the starting point for discussions?

“I think we don’t know,” said Gering, who has been critical of Hansen’s proposal.  However, he said all sides may be working towards a “positive outcome”.

“It’s encouraging much more so than six months ago,” said Gering. “There is a lot of good you can do with little projects.” 

Update -- Aug. 3

King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Councilmember Bruce Harrell talked about the arena deal and SODO transportation needs during interviews with KING 5's Chris Daniels on Thursday evening.

Constantine: The traffic challenges have built up for more than a century ... so we can't expect one property owner or business owner to pay for all of those impacts. ... Rather than trying to have this one project answer for all of the accumulative impacts, we ought to be looking for a fair and adequate way to deal with the real challenges, whatever they happen to be. ... I certainly don't think Chris [Hansen] should be expected to pay for all of it, any more than if you built the last house on the block you should be expected to pay for paving the entire street.

Harrell: All of these institutions down there [in SODO] that will benefit from good freight mobility should step up to some extent. ... Chris Hansen has made it very clear that he's willing to do his share. So I think that we will come out in a good place on this.

Harrell, asked if the Mariners' $500,000 contribution should be a floor for possible contribution from Hansen's group, said: "Well, I think that [the Mariners' $500K] was low. But I think that makes the point that all of these institutions down there what will benefit from good freight mobility should step up to some extent. I would use that as a floor on the kind of investment we'd like to see.

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