“Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?” Johnny Rotten famously yelled out at the last Sex Pistol’s show in 1978 before the band imploded. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Why you might ask? Because I believe that as a city we have been cheated, and it’s time to stand up and do the right thing.
I moved to Seattle as a musician in 1989. I’ve been lucky, working in music for most of my adult life. Over the past 28 years, I’ve seen the music business go through a lot of changes. The internet disrupted physical distribution, recorded music has lost most of its monetary value, and the only consistent revenue stream today for musicians is live performance.
In mid-September, a local investment team led by Seattle native Chris Hansen put forward a proposal to privately fund the redevelopment of KeyArena as a music and arts space. The renovated KeyArena would include a 6,200-seat indoor concert space, a 3,000-seat covered amphitheater, and a 500-seat theater for more intimate events. These new mid-size venues would fill a crucial gap for the local music community and touring artists, while creating a world-class outdoor viewing experience that is currently missing in Seattle.
So why feel cheated?
Because the Hansen team has been working for six years in good faith with the city to build a new privately funded arena in SoDo to bring the NBA back to Seattle, while former Mayor Ed Murray decided to prioritize his own legacy this year rather than serving the best interest of the city.
The initial Hansen proposal started during the McGinn administration and was tainted in Murray’s eyes the minute he came into office. Murray and his administration created a process that blocked open discussion of the Hansen group’s proposals while creating a request for proposal process for KeyArena that was so narrow in scope, it precluded any larger creative ideas. His administration then heavily favored one of the proposers, LA-based Oak View Group, from Day One. It’s one of the reasons AEG, the only other bidder, withdrew its proposal out of protest.
Anyone who’s been involved in the music business over the last 40 years knows Irving Azoff (one of Oak View Group’s leaders) does not have Seattle’s best interests at heart. He’s leading the charge on consolidating the concert business nationally and the OVG KeyArena proposal is merely a means to an end. The Hansen proposal is promoter neutral and has promised to not side with one promoter like Live Nation or AEG. It will be open to any promoter that wants to do business there. That’s good for artists.
The Port of Seattle has also spent a lot of money trying to keep an arena out of SoDo while securing its own street vacations for an overpass on Occidental Ave. At the same time, Port officials are openly considering redeveloping large parts of the Port for additional cruise ship terminals, housing and retail. Whose interests are they most concerned with?
The biggest question surrounding the SoDo Arena to date has been, what happens to the KeyArena when the Sonics return? The city must do something with the Key. We can’t just tear it down and start over. The Key’s landmark protection status has stymied development for years. Hansen’s proposal provides the first compelling long-term solution to date.
This new proposal for KeyArena supports the Seattle Center as an arts hub at the center of our city. As the city grows, open public space is more important than ever. The Key would join other arts focused tenants like KEXP, The Vera Project, SIFF, The Ballet, Opera, MoPOP, and Seattle Repertory Theatre. It would be like Seattle’s version of Lincoln Center. If that’s not enough, this proposal would reduce traffic impact on the Uptown neighborhood and South Lake Union.
Competition is good! Let these two proposals be vetted side by side. Let’s put the questionable actions of the Murray administration behind us and let our new leadership find a solution that works best for the Seattle taxpayers for the next 50 years.
Ben London is a Seattle based music professional/recording artist who has held senior positions with Experience Music Project, The Grammys, Hewlett Packard and Northwest Polite Society as well as board service with the Vera Project, Seattle Music Commission and KEXP advisory board. He is currently performing with STAG and Selene Vigil.