Would-be Sonics owner Chris Hansen's "self-financing" Sodo arena proposal is no slam dunk.
It may well be the best NBA arena financing deal we'll ever get—far better than the half-billion-dollar hoops palace Clay Bennett demanded taxpayers build him before he stole Seattle's team away to Oklahoma City—but if momentum is building behind the Sodo arena, it doesn't appear to be moving in Hansen's direction.
At a June 7 hearing before the Seattle City Council's Government Performance and Finance Committee, council members greeted with skepticism a Hansen-funded traffic study that suggested the Sodo area could handle arena traffic with minor improvements. "Has anybody actually stood on First Avenue and watched the traffic?" Council Member Sally Bagshaw asked rhetorically, before recounting her own dire observations.
When it was time for arena opponents to present their case—representatives from the Port of Seattle, maritime industry businesses, and unions—council members seemed eager to listen. The marine cargo operations at Seattle's seaport represent a huge chunk of our local economy, generating $3 billion in revenue and 12,428 direct, mostly well-paying union jobs. "This is not just about a basketball arena," ILWU Local 19 president Herald Ugles told the committee. "This is about a land grab."
Part of the seaport's concerns are real: Arena traffic would impact cargo-handling operations, while the surrounding development would accelerate the loss of light industry in Sodo. Another problem for Hansen: His "self-financing" deal would, in fact, need a taxpayer subsidy. The city budget office recently explained that the typical Seattle homeowner would see a $2 to $3 bump in their property tax bill to help pay off the bonds.
But Hansen's biggest problem is political.
The early skepticism from both the city and county councils is not based on thoughtful analysis; they just don't see an upside to giving their respective executives a perceived win, especially embattled Seattle mayor Mike McGinn. And McGinn has never proven a gladiator when it comes to lining up the five votes he needs to pass legislation like this arena deal through the city council.
The county council expects to vote on the arena proposal in July; the city council is scheduled to vote by August 13. And unless Hansen pumps up his offense, that full-court press on McGinn could spell doom for hopes of returning the Sonics to Seattle anytime soon.