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City Council Study: KeyArena could be renovated for $285M

A report obtained by KING 5 shows the Seattle City Council is not giving up on the idea of renovating KeyArena.
KeyArena at Seattle Center

SEATTLE - The Seattle City Council is not giving up on the idea of renovating KeyArena.

That's one of the takeaways of a report, obtained by KING5 through a public records request, and shows the council could consider multiple options for the facility.

"Identification and Evaluation of Options for the Future of Key Arena" is the title of the report done by architectural giant AECOM. The firm had a hand in designing buildings like the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, Century Link Field in Seattle, and the redesign of Madison Square Garden in New York. The document examines multiple potential uses for the building, and scenarios with or without a new arena in town.

Councilmember Jean Godden, who chairs the committee overseeing Seattle Center, says the report was commissioned in the wake of the 2012 Memorandum of Understanding between Chris Hansen and the city to build a new arena. However, she said it was only completed in late June after an exhaustive process.

Councilmembers were briefed in mid-July. The contents, however, have never been publicly discussed. AECOM studied multiple scenarios for the building, of varying costs, and concluded there are multiple potential options for repurposing the building, including as an adventure sports park, amusement park, aquarium, museum, or waterpark. It even suggests the building could be redeveloped into 400-500 units of housing. Those options, according the report, would cost north of $100 million. The city could also demolish the arena at a cost close to $7 million.

The AECOM report suggests the city could complete a gut remodel of the building to make it NBA and NHL compatible at a cost of $285 million. It also says the city could build out a facility that is 644,600 square feet, instead of the current, smaller 353,000 foot structure.

"$285 million (would be) a small amount compared to the cost of a new arena," said Godden, head of the Council's Seattle Center committee, on Friday. "If there is no new arena built, this will be very doable for both hockey and basketball."

Godden says the study was part of the MOU for a New Arena, approved by the Council, in which it agreed to finance a portion of a new NBA/NHL arena built by Chris Hansen. Godden says the city spent $150,000 on the study, which would be repaid by Hansen, but only if he gets his new building.

Hansen's project has survived legal challenges, a two-year-long environmental review, and the approvals of two different design review boards earlier this month. He and his backers are now seeking a final council vote on a street vacation before the Department of Planning and Development can issue a Master Use Permit. That vote could happen by the end of the year.

Meantime, Hansen has been unsuccessful in attempting to acquire an NBA franchise to fill a new building, and his MOU with the city expires in 2017.

The lengthy Key Arena study also seems to cast doubt on NBA prospects for Seattle in the future, saying expansion is not likely because "product dilution is also a concern," and "there currently is no team that is actively and publicly planning to move." Instead, it devotes multiple pages to a Key renovation for the NHL, citing data showing Seattle atop the charts, when compared to current NHL markets, in population, population growth, median household income, and corporate support.

The report reads: "Based on the assumption that an NHL franchise is more likely to be relocated or acquired to play in Seattle in the next decade than an NBA team, we outline the parameters for the facility redesign based upon an acceptable NHL configuration, which could be modified into an NBA arena fairly easily. The diagrams..outline two new possible seating bowl re configurations that occur within the existing footprint and roof structure of KeyArena."

"The report ought to be made public," said Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, "The public should be talking about it."

However, Bagshaw said a Key Arena renovation should only be considered if Sound Transit 3 is approved by voters next year, which could provide light rail, years down the road, to the Seattle Center area.

"ST3 only," she said. "If it goes there, it makes sense. There is so much traffic in that area (already)."

The Environmental Review of Hansen's plan noted that there are congestion, traffic, and parking concerns that are far greater near Seattle Center than in SoDo.

However, Bagshaw said that she thought a Key Arena solution could be of interest to the Port and Maritime interests, which have objected to a SoDo Arena.

Hansen's team was not immediately available for comment.

Meanwhile, a leading sports economist has co-authored a study that concludes the Lower Queen Anne area saw property values rise significantly only after the Sonics left in 2008.

Brad Humphreys, who testified on behalf of the Sonics franchise in the 2008 federal lawsuit over the Key Arena lease, says evidence shows the neighborhood is doing just fine. Humphreys, who holds a Ph.D. in economics, and is an Associate Professor at West Virginia University, co-chaired the study with WVU Assistant Professor Adam Nowak, who also holds a PH.D.

In their May 7, 2015, study titled, "Professional Sports Facilities, Teams, and Property Values: Evidence from Seattle's Key Arena", the two claim the lack of a major Key Arena tenant has been good for real estate values near Seattle Center.

The study says condo prices have experienced "excess price appreciation" since the Sonics left, based on research involving 10,000 residential property transactions within one mile of Key Arena between 2000-2013. They write, "These results suggest that the presence of a team in a high profile sports league is not the most important factor driving observed property value increases documented in the existing literature."

Humphreys and Nowak write, "We interpret this as evidence that the presence of the SuperSonics in Key Arena generated disamenties in nearby areas. These disamenties flow from the additional traffic, noise trash, and other undesirable features associated with large crowds of people attending NBA games in the arena."

Still, Godden says, she believes the study gives the Council something to chew on before it makes a final vote.

"This is good we got this study done in time so we could look at all the possibilities," she said.

Identification and Evaluation of Options for the Future of KeyArena by KING 5 News

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