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As KeyArena moves forward, UW study boosting Sodo gains traction

SEATTLE — Before Sonics faithful and Sodo arena lovers rejoice over professor Justin Marlowe’s findings, you might want to talk to him. His study found the city of Seattle could rake in three times the amount of tax revenue from Sodo compared to KeyArena.

“It’s people with really, really strong feelings that are difficult to quantify,” he said.

Marlowe is with the University of Washington’s Public Policy School, and Sodo arena investor Chris Hansen's group paid his department to compare the financial deals.

On one side, Hansen’s plans in Sodo and on the other, Oakview Group, who wants to renovate KeyArena and has the backing of the mayor and City Council.

“Part of the reason we did this study (is) because we felt there wasn't a lot of information out there on the public financing and the impact of public financing,” he said.

By that, he means the benefits of what Seattle gets from each plan.

The 3-to-1 return figure is helped in part because Sodo would be all-private and not a city asset.

Marlowe says it's a good headline for Hansen, but not the whole story.

“Supporters and opponents are looking for whatever evidence they have to make them feel good or not good about any particular proposal,” he said.

Of course, Sodo would bring more money in -- simply because KeyArena is a public building.  Seattle can't pay itself taxes.

Securing a better KeyArena is a council legacy move, not entirely just about money. That’s tough to quantify but makes a difference to the council because they have to be stewards of the building.

There's also the issue that if Sodo is never built, Hansen could build something else -- and he's paying for property taxes no matter what.

That's just a small part of what Marlowe took into account

“Even small changes like when you would get a team, for example, or what the average attendance would be,” he said.

But is the study actually independent? Hansen paid for it, but Marlowe answered honestly. The results are indeed positive for Sodo. But even if they were bad, Hansen couldn't keep them secret.

“We had said early on that if we're going to do this, it's going to be made public,” he said.

He just wants everyone to know -- before a vote.

“Take a look at the spreadsheet. Take a look at the numbers. Run your own numbers,” he pleaded.

The council also voted to support OVG and the mayor as they negotiate for a Memorandum of Understanding; the KeyArena plan could get a vote by the end of the year.

The city said the MOU should be released on September 12.