There appears to be no stopping the proposal to build a new arena at Seattle Center. Not even Congress.
That what was learned during a nearly three hour hearing in front of the Seattle Council's Committee on Civic Arenas at Seattle Council Chambers on Thursday, before the committee voted 5-0 to send the proposal to the full council.
Dozens of people testified in front of seven council members, who attended the hearing. Most seemed relatively warm to the idea of the Oak View Group $660 million package. Only a handful of people testified they were concerned about the elimination of the skateboard park under the proposal.
OVG has a tentative Memorandum of Understanding with the city to build the project at the current site of KeyArena. The council took a crack at amendments to the package, with Rob Johnson raising concerns about scheduling conflicts with the Seattle Opera and Pacific Northwest Ballet.
He also raised concerns about the House GOP's Tax Reform Bill, approved Thursday, which eliminates the Historic Preservation Tax Credit. OVG has been banking on using it to help finance the proposal, and the city went through the Historic Preservation process as an enticement to bidders.
Johnson asked city consultants, and central staffers if it would be an issue. Consultant Carl Hirsh told the committee that if the Senate approves a bill, which includes the historic preservation elimination, it would put more equity and private financing into the deal. Hirsh called it "10 percent" of the overall project cost.
OVG's Lance Lopes told KING 5 earlier Thursday: "OVG has been monitoring the legislation and we have had discussions with members of Congress about the issue. We are pleased with the progress we have made and we will continue our efforts to obtain the federal tax credits for this historic project. Overall, OVG is excited and pleased with the progress on the New Arena at Seattle Center. We look forward to finally bringing Seattle a world-class arena."
There was another amendment to the MOU concerning language limiting city support for another arena in Seattle. The amendment would have stricken the language, but the committee did not approve it. It seemed to be a reference to a potential SODO arena. That project still needs a one-block street vacation approved before it can begin construction.
Juarez told reporters, "I'll be really frank with you. The street vacation is yesterday's news. I don't need to tell you about that. This is about looking forward. This is about Seattle Center, KeyArena and about hopefully bringing back a basketball team and a hockey team."
When asked if the council would vote again on the street vacation, Juarez said bluntly, "I voted on that 18 months ago, and I voted no. It's done, it's over. I'm looking forward. That's a failed MOU. That's the past."
OVG said it hopes to begin demolition in 2018 and open by 2020. Council member Mike O'Brien has suggested the timeline is meant so an NHL can begin playing there in the fall of 2020. Juarez said there have been no promises from the league, "but let's not fool ourselves nobody is going to pour $600 million into a city - unless they know they have something to bring - and are sure of their investments."
The full council will vote December 4. Based on the five yes votes Thursday, approval then seems likely.