After a split vote in committee, the full Seattle City Council will vote today on whether to sell Occidental Avenue South to rich guy Chris Hansen, who wants to build a new basketball arena nearby. But today's vote may only be happening because of "forceful, last-minute intervention in late January by Mayor Ed Murray," the Seattle Times' Geoff Baker reports.
Baker reports that he got his hands on a letter drafted by Seattle City Council member Mike O'Brien—who chairs the council's transportation committee and now supports the street vacation—saying the council wanted to put off a vote on the street vacation until the city's construction and inspections department gave Hansen the necessary master use permit. That would have been unusual, since the city's normal policies allow street vacations before permits. (The street vacation is one of the final steps between Hansen and the city permits he needs to build the arena.)
Baker reports that O'Brien drafted the letter in January and planned to have council members sign it in early February. But that didn't happen. O'Brien wouldn't elaborate to the Times about his change of heart, but:
But just a few days before that, O’Brien told Murray of his plans in a one-on-one meeting. Sources said Murray erupted and threatened to publicly blame him for killing the arena and ruining Seattle’s chances of the NBA returning.
In an interview, Murray said he never threatened anyone and merely told O’Brien deferring a vote would change city policy and “for all intents and purposes would kill the arena.’’
Murray added: “What I did say was ‘If the council changed the procedures for this project, breaking city policy, people would see it for what it is.’ Because it would result in the (MOU) thing expiring and the arena never happening. That’s what I said. And saying that ‘People will see what you’re doing’ is hardly a threat.’’
(Murray goes on to say O'Brien supported the arena "when his good friend Mike McGinn was mayor.")
So, Murray sent his own letter to city council members, saying O'Brien's plan “could potentially derail” the arena. And now the council is set to vote on the street vacation with O'Brien leading the charge.
You should go read Baker's whole piece. It's a window into the dynamic emerging between Murray and this new city council, which is a little less automatically supportive of him than the previous group. It's also interesting given the city hall rumor that won't die—that O'Brien might run against Murray when he's up for reelection next year. The arena could become an election year issue.
The street vacation has a good chance of passing today, but it's not guaranteed. Along with O'Brien, Tim Burgess, Bruce Harrell, and Rob Johnson support the street vacation. Lisa Herbold and Sally Bagshaw don't. And Debora Juarez, Lorena González, and Kshama Sawant haven't committed one way or the other. Just one of them needs to vote yes for the measure to pass. But even if the vacation passes, the city could face a lawsuit from the Port of Seattle, which opposes the arena.
Today, Bagshaw and Herbold plan to introduce an amendment that could delay the vacation and spoil hopes for a hockey team for the arena by only allowing the street vacation once Hansen's ArenaCo "has obtained ownership rights to an NBA franchise." (The fact that Hansen doesn't have the single biggest thing he needs to run a new stadium—a basketball or hockey team to play in it—has created a chicken-or-the-egg debate in this fight. Arena supporters say the street vacation will show that the city is serious about building the arena, which will help attract a team. The other side says there's no point in giving Hansen a street vacation now when he might never even find a team to play in his arena. The NBA says, basically, that it doesn't care whether Seattle has a "shovel ready" arena project.)
Bagshaw and Herbold are also proposing amendments requiring Hansen to pay for pedestrian improvements near the arena and allow public events at the plaza in front of the arena. The city council will vote today at 2 pm. You can watch it live here.