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Originally published Sunday, September 16, 2012 at 4:00 PM

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Op-ed: Don't turn KeyArena into a white elephant

A new Sodo new arena would devastate KeyArena and Seattle Center. The city must provide more resources to restore Seattle Center in the proposed deal, according to guest columnists Angela Robar and Regina Hall.

Special to The Timestle Times

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THE creation of a new arena in Sodo would devastate the KeyArena and Seattle Center. It is imperative that the city provide more resources to address that fact in the proposed arena deal. The proposed memorandum of understanding, approved by City Council committee Thursday, provides only a fraction of the money needed to revitalize KeyArena.

Look closely at the memorandum. It would establish a $7 million KeyArena fund. Only $2 million of the fund is designated to fund improvements to KeyArena that would come out of a 12-month planning process for the site's future.

Up to $5 million could go toward improving KeyArena so a new NBA and NHL team can play there while a new arena is built. But if the Seattle Storm signs a long-term lease to play in the new arena, the $5 million could instead be directed to the new Sodo arena.

The City Council needs to revise the memorandum to clearly allocate the KeyArena funds to KeyArena and commit to the other investments necessary to preserve Seattle Center as a valued community asset.

Seattle Center's Century 21 Master Plan, developed with extensive public input, was unanimously approved by the City Council in 2008. It recognizes KeyArena as the anchor of Seattle Center, bringing revenue to the city and attracting a diverse set of patrons.

Since the Sonics left in 2008, the Seattle Center staff has brought KeyArena operations back to profitability. If the ArenaCo investment group, led by Chris Hansen, builds a new arena, it will take over the business on which KeyArena currently relies.

KeyArenawill become a white elephant, with substantial adverse effects on Seattle Center and the Lower Queen Anne neighborhood.

The master plan identifies the area surrounding KeyArena as "ripe for public-private partnerships" but with limited tenants, fewer concerts and no funding, the city would have little leverage to develop such partnerships. Everyone agrees that KeyArena can be successfully redone to attract productions that complement rather than compete with a new arena. But that makeover will require at least $20 million, according to a 2006 study.

The amount of money necessary for a KeyArena makeover is a small fraction of the cost of the overall deal that is under consideration. It is not a deal killer. The benefits of owning a team, such as tax write-offs, far exceed the cash-flow generated by a basketball franchise.

Taxes generated by KeyArena beyond $7 million would go to a transportation -improvement fund in the proposed deal. The deal should be changed so that all taxes generated at KeyArena would be reinvested in Seattle Center.

The city of Seattle has invested hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars in Seattle Center. Private donors have invested hundreds of millions more.

Seattle Center is the busiest destination in Washington, attracting more than 12 million visitors per year -- nearly 50 percent of whom come from within King County -- 500 public programs, and more than 5,000 shows and events. The center and the organizations it supports on its campus have meant a lot more to our collective community than any sports team.

As experienced businesswomen, taxpayers, Sonics and Sounders season ticket holders, and regular visitors to Seattle Center, we believe having a new arena and NBA team and a vibrant Seattle Center is not mutually exclusive. The City Council can and should ensure that any deal for a new arena includes not just a study of what would be necessary to repurpose KeyArena and make it successful, but also the money to make it a reality.

Angela Robar, left, and Regina Hall serve on the Seattle Center Advisory Commission.

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