Seattle City Council is rightfully skeptical of Sodo arena deal
The Sodo arena deal pushes a project into the wrong location and seeks too much public financial participation with too little payback for the community, and stirs economy-imperiling traffic issues.
Seattle Times Editorial
Nostalgia for the return of professional basketball to Seattle does not trump the Seattle City Council's duty to protect the economic welfare of the community.
The proposed sports arena in Sodo invites financial risks that are unacceptable, and comes with predictable traffic and transportation problems for existing businesses, especially at the Port of Seattle.
Plugging the Sodo arena into an industrial district south of two existing sports facilities gambles with a centerpiece of the local economy.
The council is scheduled to meet Wednesday to review the status of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that shapes the deal offered by investor Chris Hansen and his known and unknown partners. The memorandum has been the focus of intense behind-the-scenes negotiations since council members in July raised pointed questions about an imbalance of public and private benefits.
The concerns cover everything from financial risks for taxpayers to questions about how much the investors actually have at stake in the deal.
A primary issue is paying for traffic mitigation, which is a term of art for coping with the mess expected on local streets and Interstate 5, and with rush-hour gridlock. Who will pay for pedestrian improvements in addition to the substantial traffic fixes required to avoid disruptions at the port, if that is possible?
One idea apparently in play is to reduce the sought-after $200 million public financing in the arena plan and capture some of the arena-generated tax revenues to pay for fundamental transportation improvements. And, yes, that means the investors put in more up front.
All of this heavy lifting with the memorandum of understanding makes the point that the proposed arena would be in the worst possible location. Even making it a tolerable neighbor in Sodo is an expensive gamble.
Recent polling suggests the public is concerned about arena financing, transportation issues and disruptions to port operations.
If the council meets on Wednesday, depending on the status of ongoing negotiations, what new information can members say they have learned to assuage their concerns? The economic analysis done to date suggests minimal, if any, gain for the community.
The details that should be available via a broad environmental review are unknown. Even conducting such a study is a hypothetical at this point.
If council members are understandably queasy about this complex real-estate transaction, they should seek some advice. Put the idea to a vote; let the public have a say.