I had a chance to tour KeyArena this week with potential developers and city representatives. And this is what the whole thing felt like to me:
“Save the Clock Tower! Save The Clock Tower!" from "Back To The Future"
Save KeyArena! Save KeyArena! One city employee even called it the “Crown Jewel” of Seattle. Seriously! But that’s what this whole RFP (Request For Proposals) process is all about: A chance for the city to save its own asset, ultimately save taxpayer money, and - who knows? - maybe even become heroes to local sports fans by bringing the NBA or NHL to the city after the long, arduous process.
And as much as you or I oppose this plan compared to SODO, it’s ultimately the city leaders who have the final call. And the painful realism is that THEY seem to believe KeyArena might work.
Now, before we go any further, it’s clear there are a lot of “alternative facts” out there when it comes to the possible renovation of “The Key” and Chris Hansen’s SODO arena plans. So let’s set the record straight:
1. The city of Seattle currently owns KeyArena.
2. AEG currently operates KeyArena.
3. All proposals for KeyArena’s renovation – the “RFP” - are due on April 12.
4. All arena proposals are expected to be completely privately funded – with no public money.
5. AEG and Oak View Group are the two known groups expected to submit proposals.
6. While former NBA Commissioner David Stern once said a renovated KeyArena is not an option, current commissioner Adam Silver has said “Nothing’s a closed deal.”
7. KeyArena’s roof is currently going through “Historic Landmark Preservation” review. (“Save The Clock Tower,” indeed!) And with no definitive timeline, both AEG and Oak View are being forced to submit a Plan A and Plan B – one with the roof, one without it.
8. Chris Hansen’s is also re-submitting its SODO arena plan – this time, with the project fully privately funded.
9. The city is expected to make its recommendation to the mayor by June 30, although that’s just a starting point for lengthy negotiations.
10. The NBA has not formally announced expansion plans, but many believe it could come soon
11. The NHL has left the door open for one more expansion franchise, by accepting only the Las Vegas bid last July.
As I said last week, it’s my opinion the SODO plan is a no-brainer, given the better location, that it has already gone through years of vetting with an Environmental Impact Survey and Transportation Review, and that it already has an NBA ownership group in place (Hansen). And based on the responses we received, the majority of NBA and NHL fans agree.
“The KeyArena option is ludicrous!” they say. “Traffic’s a nightmare. Transit’s practically non-existent! There’s no parking either!”
But who said common sense always wins out? And despite our preference, there’s the most important question we ultimately have to answer: Do we want the NBA and NHL in Seattle – or not? Because as we all know, it’s either THE CITY’S WAY... or the highway. It’s either on THE CITY’S TIMELINE... or not at all – which could unfortunately realistically take 5 to 7 years. And it either gets approval from the city council - which these days seems harder to get than The Hope Diamond - or we wait another decade to sniff another opportunity.
I mean, just listen to how “on board” the city seems to be in wanting a KeyArena option to work. Here's the director of SDDOT talk about traffic in the Lower Queen Anne area:
"I think the transit infrastructure coming into this is better than it was ten years ago," said Scott Kubly. "Also, we've untangled the Mercer Mess, and I don't think anybody would argue that it works perfectly..."
The next time you’re on Mercer during rush hour, think fondly of Kubly, who considers that monstrosity to be somewhat “untangled.” And then you can buy that bridge I’m selling too.
Next, AEG already has a relationship with the city by operating KeyArena and the business relationship it has developed with the NBA. And yes, WE might be skeptical of the logistics and location of The Key, and WE might be skeptical of their ability of finding an ownership group who actually wants to write a huge check to be a third-party operator – which I think, in the NBA's case, is highly unrealistic. But it seems the city doesn’t care about that kind of minutia, (like where is that team going to practice?!?), and if the numbers work out for them, they might unfortunately move forward with AEG without a known group to own an NBA team.
That's ultimately the worst case scenario: AEG or Oak View renovates KeyArena as an entertainment venue with the capability to house an NBA or NHL team, but no ownership group steps up. My feeling? If this happens, an NHL team is still highly possible, but an outside NBA ownership group might be difficult to find.
Listen, as someone who’s fought the good fight for nine years since the Sonics left town, I know we’re all tired. I know we’re out of patience. And most of all, I know we’re out of trust, because we’ve had our hearts broken countless times by both the NBA and our elected officials. That’s why the SODO plan, to us, is the right one: It’s tangible, it’s reasonable, and it’s by far the closest to "shovel ready.”
But at this point, right or wrong, we’ve been fighting against elected officials for too long. And at least one of them has been sounding like this, in regards to KeyArena, the past few years (Sally Bagshaw):
“Save The Clock Tower! Save The Clock Tower!”
So if the city chooses a KeyArena proposal on June 30 against our strongest wishes, are we really going to fight it? Or should we take one more long, hard, frustrating breath, knowing how much longer we might have to wait, and realize that the stars might finally be aligned to bring the NBA back home?
We’ve sacrificed enough energy by now. And if the city and league(s) finally think there’s a viable option – that they, together, actually see a light at the end of the tunnel - I’m still reluctant to buy it, but I'm sure as hell not standing in its way.