Commentary: Disconnect between City priorities and Sonics fans provides major frustration in arena process

In discussing the arena debate as a sports anchor, my priorities have always been three-fold:

1. Putting the city in the best position to bring the Sonics back

2. Promoting the best situation for future arena consumers from inside AND outside the city

3. Seeing a fair and transparent process that reviews all proposals side-by-side

Why do I continue to beat this drum? Because none of those priorities are being met!

Case-in-point: The SODO Arena Group filed a new request for a conditional street vacation of Occidental in February. (Cue the Jeopardy music.) Eight months later, it’s still sitting with Seattle’s Department of Transportation, waiting to be passed to council for review.

What was SDOT’s reason? (Cue the circus music.)

Two months ago, a spokeswoman said the city was using its resources to focus on just KeyArena – that the SODO request was being put on hold. But this week, she changed the story, saying the SODO group hadn’t responded to requests for more information. But then, SDOT publicly criticized that spokeswoman, saying it takes each step of the process seriously, but then couldn’t provide proof that they’d asked for more information. Oh, and any email proof from April had been purged from their system. How convenient…

Hansen’s lawyers say they were never told about the need for more info, aside from at a Design Commission meeting, where their plan was still approved, 7-1. They also maintain that a different city agency then told them it was okay if they didn’t update the information.

To me, something’s fishy here. And after all this wasted time, we’ve missed a perfect opportunity for the SODO plan to be evaluated side-by-side with Oak View’s proposal to renovate KeyArena.

Who was behind the SODO stall? I’ve speculated before that it was former mayor Ed Murray. And not surprisingly, here was Chris Hansen’s telling take about their vacation request this week:

“We’re more excited. There’s been a changing of the guard at the mayor’s office and hopefully our request falls on a little more receptive ears,” Hansen said.

Well, guess what? As of this week, the street vacation process is moving forward once again. No mea culpa from the city – just more time for the KeyArena plan to gain momentum.

And then there’s the city council who ultimately has the final say. A council whose top priority is making a city asset like KeyArena profitable, whether or not it’s the best situation to bringing the Sonics back.

Maybe it’s just me, but this interaction was somewhat frustrating to me at the Arena Public Hearing last Tuesday:

“I’d like to speak on behalf of the youth who never got to experience the Sonics. I want to experience what that felt like and the magic of having a team to root for here,” said a teenager from Bainbridge Island during public comments.

“Thank you,” city councilwoman Debora Juarez said. “And just so you know, we do have a professional team in Seattle and it’s called Seattle Storm. Couple national championships, just want to throw that out there.”

The teenager then showed the council that he was wearing a Storm T-Shirt underneath his sweatshirt.

“Thank you,” Juarez responded. “Might have wanted to lead with that T-Shirt first.”

Listen, as you know, I’m a big Seattle Storm fan too. Many people need to recognize the Storm in terms of pro basketball in Seattle. But that public rebuke didn’t seem fair to a teenager just wanting to experience NBA basketball without having to drive to Portland.

But apparently, that’s what needs to happen to get certain council members’ attention. So, on Thursday November 16, when they next take public comments, if you’re a SODO supporter, here would be my suggestion on what to say just to get some of them to actually listen:

I’ve supported the Seattle Storm and enjoyed celebrating their two WNBA championships. I want the best possible situation for the Storm moving forward.

As co-owner Ginny Gilder said, this IS a huge opportunity for the city and for a team that’s played in an arena that hasn’t been well-maintained.

But a SODO arena is actually better than a KeyArena renovation, because the Storm will not be forced to relocate for at least two seasons. Under the Storm’s current lease, it will cost this city up to $2.6 million for every season they’re displaced, so the city would be saving considerable money too. A seamless transition for the Storm from KeyArena to SODO at no cost to the city seems like a better deal.

So yes, I do support a brand new arena for the Seattle Storm. But I also support the best situation for that team, for the city, and yes, for bringing the Sonics back too. In my opinion, that’s a SODO Arena. Thank you very much.”