A call to action: Mayor Murray/City’s foolishness and stubbornness on arena debate must be scrutinized by city council

We start with a reminder that there’s always been one clear preference in this arena debate:

In April: On SeattleTimes.com – 77% preferred Chris Hansen’s plan in SODO

In May: On SonicsRising.com – 94% at least preferred a SODO Arena

In June: From the Everett Herald – 76% preferred the SODO plan

In July: Our Ian Furness conducted a Twitter poll that received more than 3400 votes – 94% preferred SODO over KeyArena

Yet this whole time, Mayor Ed Murray has ignored that large majority, hiding behind the same excuse: “If there's a new arena built somewhere else, what happens to KeyArena? This is literally $150 million taxpayer liability.”

Justified or not, it's the main reason so many elected officials worried about SODO: KeyArena becoming a major taxpayer burden if nothing was done about the city asset.

This week, the SODO group provided a potential solution to that concern, unveiling an alternative plan to convert The Key into two intimate concert venues – an indoor facility for 6200 seats, and a really cool outdoor covered amphitheatre for 3000 people that could accommodate even more, since it flows out toward the International Fountain. It maintains the iconic roof and includes a 500-seat theatre for plays and performances.

Oh, and Hansen’s group is willing to pay for it all. Fully privately funded. A plan that seems to integrate itself well into the area, meets a local need for midsize concert venues, and best of all, mitigates the traffic, transportation and parking concerns everyone has about Oak View’s proposal for an 18,000-seat arena in the Uptown neighborhood in Lower Queen Anne.

And yet, this was the city’s response: “If the SODO Arena Group was interested in redeveloping KeyArena, they should have submitted their proposal during the RFP process...They did not submit a proposal and continue to show no interest in working in partnership with the City.”

Wait. WHAT?!?

To be clear:
a. The SODO Group worked with the city to form an MOU for a potential SODO Arena
b. The SODO Group initially agreed to contribute $7 million more for KeyArena improvements
c. The SODO Group stayed patient with the city through a four-year process to get a master-use permit and environmental and traffic impact studies approved
d. The SODO Group offered to contribute money to the Lander Street Overpass project to appease the Port of Seattle
e. The SODO Group revised its arena plan at the behest of city councilmembers to be fully privately funded AND made its street vacation request conditional on the acquisition of an NBA or NHL team
f. Chris Hansen gave the city permission to go forward with a KeyArena Request for Proposals despite a legal binding document for arena exclusivity
g. Hansen still has the right under the MOU to propose options for the future of Seattle Center, and is now doing just that with a fully privately-funded alternative plan for KeyArena...

...but the city says that group “has no interest in working with the City?” And “Sorry – you missed the deadline?!?”

I mean, if Hansen had made deadline, what are the odds this plan would’ve been discarded for not abiding by the parameters of the RFP, which called for a “world-class arena?” I’d say pretty good. In fact, this is a classic case of the city cowering behind the argument of “process” over logic.

For example, what if the city held an RFP to reduce homelessness and selected a winner, but at the last minute, Jeff Bezos came in and said “I’ve got a plan which includes a billion dollar contribution to eradicate the problem.” Would the city say “Sorry, Jeff – thanks, but no thanks - you missed the deadline”?!?

Or think back to when the Sonics were stolen. Before they left town, what if someone jumped in with an offer to build a new arena for free to keep them here, and David Stern had said, “Sorry – too late – they’re still moving to Oklahoma City.”

That’s exactly what the mayor and his Office of Economic Development are doing now. It’s maddening – and it’s wrong.

The mayor’s office told me that after selecting Oak View’s plan through the RFP process and negotiating an MOU, it would be bad for business - that if they looked at another plan at this stage of the game, companies like Oak View would never want to do business with this city again.

You mean...like AEG and Hudson Pacific, who alleged the city "failed to conduct a sufficiently thorough, objective & transparent process in the RFP?”

Personally, I’d argue that the definition of “bad for business” is quickly dismissing a plan from the man with whom you already have a binding agreement, who was the one who gave you permission to seek alternatives to begin with!

Again, this is one more reason the City Council needs to step in and demand a closer look at both plans- a chance to determine which is truly the best path for this city. And it’s my opinion they also owe it to a man who’s been patient and willing to address the city’s concerns for more than five years to at least give his plan a thorough look.

So with that, I’m encouraging everyone with an opinion – anyone with a preference between these two plans – to respectfully email our city councilmembers and to join me at City Hall on Monday September 18th – one week from tomorrow – at 10:30am for a committee meeting on civic arenas.

Let your voice be heard.

This city should be bigger than arbitrary deadlines and dumb technicalities. Until the city council makes a final decision, it needs to complete this process by looking at the merits of BOTH plans – not just one.

The city councilmembers can be reached at the following e-mail addresses:

lisa.herbold@seattle.gov
bruce.harrell@seattle.gov
kshama.sawant@seattle.gov
rob.johnson@seattle.gov
debora.juarez@seattle.gov
mike.obrien@seattle.gov
sally.bagshaw@seattle.gov
tim.burgess@seattle.gov
lorena.gonzalez@seattle.gov