We start tonight with a story. This is the historic Pacific Tower in Seattle: the former home of Amazon that’s currently undergoing a remodel.
Three years ago, our state approved $20 million for the renovation project there. But by last year, the cost had ballooned to more than $54 million dollars – more than 2 1/2 times the cost. Is anyone surprised? Didn’t think so.
Now here’s the funny (or not-so-funny) part: According to the Seattle Times, the extra $34 million was funded in part by the City of Seattle and King County – our taxpayer dollars. But the extra cost was rationalized as “a great deal financially for the taxpayers” by the legislative champion of the project.
Ironically, the man who said that was House Speaker Frank Chopp: The most outspoken opponent ten years ago of a KeyArena upgrade, which, in turn, never happened and ultimately led to the sale of the Sonics and their move to Oklahoma City.
Which is the perfect transition to KeyArena, which, according to an AECOM report last year, can be renovated for the bargain-basement price of just $285 million. Can we get the laugh track going please? Thank you.
This AECOM report, along with its too-good-to-be-true price tag has our mayor and certain city councilmembers so giddy about the possibilities that the city is requesting renovation proposals for KeyArena – noting interest already from two different developers. That’s great and all, but even the Mayor’s statement acknowledges the major challenges in the Lower Queen Anne area, including the huge traffic dilemma and the lack of mass transit there. Plus, we all know how incredibly long and extensive the review process can take.
And then there’s the cost. And if the Pacific Tower remodel, the Seattle Tunnel Project, the 520 Bridge Project and every other undertaking our lawmakers have ever gotten behind is any indication, the initial estimate is nowhere near the final cost.
You know, it’s really a shame that a developer hasn’t come forward with a plan that’s already gone through the review process, and can take the entire financial burden off the taxpayers with a proposal to fully fund a brand new arena in a location that’s zoned specifically for stadiums and arenas.
Oh wait! Someone already has!
Which makes it even more mind-boggling that the monumental news of Chris Hansen’s group going private this week was followed up by the Mayor’s office essentially announcing, “Eh. We kind of like KeyArena instead.” Are you kidding? When someone comes in and says, “Here’s an arena for free. We’ll pay you for a street that no one ever uses and you can use those funds to complete the Lander Street overpass to mitigate traffic in the area,” you don’t say, “We’ll think about it and get back to you in awhile.”
I mean, when Amazon bought its South Lake Union headquarters from Paul Allen, no one from the city or state stepped in and said, “Sorry, we’d prefer you to go back to the Pacific Tower and help the state renovate the old building you once leased instead.”
It was called progress – and the financial boon to the city and infusion of money into the area speaks for itself. This is another chance for that kind of growth.
Listen, I’ve said enough for one night. I’ll leave the battle over the future of SODO and the deception displayed by the Port of Seattle for another night, because I need another full three minutes for that too. But this all falls under the same theme: Progress that continues to be slowed to a complete halt by bureaucracy and incomprehensible red tape.
It’s fitting that Seattle would be the city whose local leadership often acts like a human rain delay.
But it’s a shame that after such promising news this week, our elected officials continue to muddle the dreams of every local NBA and NHL fan who, despite all the unnecessary hurdles, are still keeping hope alive.