Central to The Stranger's decision to take an official position endorsing the proposed new Sonics arena are a handful of core concepts. We like the idea of bringing the NBA and NHL to downtown Seattle, we're pragmatic enough to reluctantly accept a public/private financing deal, and we're convinced that this deal is structured in such a way that it exposes taxpayers to minimal risk and cost. But while space constraints prevented us from elaborating, that doesn't mean we don't have any concerns.
Opposition from unions, businesses, and other stakeholders at Seattle's seaport gave us serious pause. No doubt event traffic could have a negative impact on nearby container cargo operations, and further gentrification of the Sodo neighborhood could help drive out many supporting businesses. Marine cargo operations at the Port of Seattle produce 12,428 direct jobs, 21,000 indirect and induced jobs, and over $3 billion in revenue annually. A thriving seaport is crucial to our state's economy, perhaps the most trade-dependent in the nation.
We also endorse the demand of the International Association of Theatrical Stage Employees that any public/private facility—including both KeyArena and the new Sonics arena—remain union shops, guaranteeing living wages and adequate benefits and protections to all workers.
That's why in addition to urging the county and city councils to move forward with the arena deal, we also urge them to take the following additional steps:
- Modify the Memorandum of Understanding to assure that both KeyArena and the Sodo arena are union shops;
- Forcefully restate existing city policy that maintains Sodo as an industrial zone, resisting further residential and commercial development outside of the current stadium district boundaries;
- Commit to funding necessary east/west traffic improvements, including the long-promised Lander Street Overpass.
Of these three, the third is probably the most politically difficult, not just because it requires finding the money, but because it creates the appearance of taxpayer dollars being spent to mitigate arena traffic, thus suggesting a hidden subsidy. That's too bad. It's also bullshit. Seaport stakeholders were promised the Lander Street Overpass when Safeco and CenturyLink fields were built, and east/west traffic will continue to clog Sodo streets with or without a new arena. It's time to deliver on this promise, whatever the optics.
This isn't a choice between building an arena in one Seattle location or another. This is a choice between a Sodo arena or not building one in Seattle at all. Even if KeyArena met NBA standards (and the NBA insists that it does not) its 1995 renovation is already more than halfway through the average 30-year useful life of a sports facility. The region will get a new facility sometime over the next decade or so, and if we don't build it here, Eastside developers are itching to build one in Bellevue.
Build it here. We can make it work.