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Originally published Monday, July 16, 2012 at 5:26 PM

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Think about the city when evaluating proposed Sodo arena

What is the value of the Sodo arena proposal and its overall impact on the city of Seattle?

Special to The Times

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The former mayor of Bellevue and Bremerton telling us that Seattle has more important... MORE
Building roads, books for schools, social services etc have nothing to do with this... MORE
The former mayor of Bellevue. You know, that city that's considered the frontrunner to... MORE

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SEATTLE is my hometown.

I grew up in Seattle in the '50s and '60s, attended Lincoln High School, ate most of my meals at Dick's Drive-In on 45th, delivered the P-I newspaper, and kissed my first girl at Green Lake. I graduated from the University of Washington when it cost $250 per quarter and I was able to get in with a 3.0 grade average.

I love this city.

When I saw people questioning whether the city should move forward with a proposal to fund a new arena in Sodo, I stood up and applauded. Finally, a real debate on the true value that professional sports teams bring to a city and its citizens.

I am a big sports fan, but I am a bigger fan of cities and their responsibility to provide quality services to the public. Cities work because they provide economic opportunities, safe neighborhoods, good schools, great parks and open spaces, walking trails, good public transportation, affordable housing and cultural activities.

These bring us together and a sense of community pride. These are the core values that should drive a city. Spectator sports certainly are a part of its fabric, but how important are they? Where do they rank on the list of projects we should be financing with public debt? That is the conversation that must take place. It will be a healthy exercise for Seattle and its citizens.

The individuals who are leading the new arena effort to bring back the Sonics and attract a new National Hockey League team are assembling an excellent offer compared with professional sports projects in other cities. They are putting their own skin in the game. They are true believers in the idea that this investment will make Seattle a better city. These are good people. I like big dreams and Seattle has not had one in a while that has gotten past the naysayers.

Had they not asked the city and King County to participate financially, I doubt we would be having much of a debate. But they have asked the citizens to participate. What is the value of this investment and its overall impact on the city?

I believe in public/private partnerships. I believe in government's ability to provide investment to make a private venture move forward. Indeed, that has brought about much success in both Bellevue and Bremerton where I have had the privilege to work.

Today we are a country in trouble.

We are losing our middle class.

There is a widening opportunity gap for poor kids. Our public education system has fallen behind many other countries. We have more people per capita incarcerated in jail than any other country. Our health care is too expensive. Our politicians are unwilling to compromise on important issues and our unemployment rate is higher than 8 percent.

On the local level the City of Seattle is struggling in many areas. We are dealing with the decline of our public school system. Too many people are shot at each day. We rank fourth worst in traffic congestion. We cannot afford to pave our streets, keep our parks clean, or invest in our public waterfront without going to the citizens for a tax increase. These are the problems we have to figure out how to fix. These are the real priorities.

Can we can do all that and build a new arena for the Sonics?

Let the debate go forth — as the journey to the answer might be exactly what Seattle needs. Is this a project that will make Seattle a better place? Will there be a net benefit to the city?

Cary Bozeman is the former mayor of Bellevue and Bremerton.

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