Opinion: Split Sports, Entertainment Between Arenas

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Copyright 2017 Spokane Spokesman-Review

Spokesman Review (Spokane, WA)


The process of fashioning an arena for the purpose of bringing an NBA and possibly NHL team to Seattle drones on, complicated by an amalgam of conflicts that are political, financial, logistical, geographic ? and endless.

There have been dramatic twists and turns along the way, ever since Chris Hansen announced in February 2012 his plan to build an arena in Sodo - among them the near-acquisition of the Sacramento Kings in 2013, the 5-4 vote in a city council vote last May that rejected a plan to vacate a one-block section of Occidental Avenue to make room for said arena, and the emergence, shortly thereafter, of two powerhouse groups intent upon either rebuilding or renovating KeyArena.

While Seattle mayor Ed Murray has given every impression of tilting in favor of the KeyArena option, Hansen soldiers on. Even his detractors would have to give him this: The man is resolute, even in the face of some devastating setbacks.

Whatever his motivation - financial gain or, as Hansen told the Associated Press' Tim Booth in his latest media blitz Thursday, "civic obligation" - it's clear he really, really wants to bring pro basketball back to Seattle. A less-determined man would have dropped out long ago.

And Hansen really, really believes his group, which now has Russell Wilson in its fold, has the best site. And I agree with him.

Whatever logistical problems exist at Sodo - and virtually no aspect of the arena-building business, from soup to nuts, is smooth and problem-free - they appear far less cumbersome than those at the Key. The issues of ingress and egress alone in the ever-growing Queen Anne neighborhood are mind-boggling, on top of the daunting challenge of squeezing a state-of-the-art building into a limited footprint, complicated even further by the potential limitations of being designated as a historical landmark. Both threaten to be deal-breakers.

Put the sports arena in Sodo and spiffy up KeyArena as a state-of-the-art concert venue.

I'd dismiss KeyArena out of hand, in fact, except for one powerful reality, which is the best thing it has going for it. Namely, that two juggernauts in the venue-building business - in fact the two juggernauts, AEG and Oak View Group - believe it is viable. That alone makes it incumbent to wait out this process and see just what sort of innovative ideas they come up with to mitigate the thorny issues of transportation, parking and construction.

Hansen is convinced that when all the proposals are juxtaposed in front of the city council, his group's will shine through as the most feasible. And it might have to be decisive, because of the political inclination to give the benefit of the doubt to KeyArena, a city-owned property that many fear would become unprofitable if a new arena opens in Sodo.

Hansen keeps offering sweeteners to make his deal more palatable, including a new plan in October to privately fund the project in its entirety. He has helped pay for transportation improvements, including the Lander Street overpass. And recently Hansen's group tried to eliminate a potential objection by clarifying that if the Occidental street vacation is approved, it wouldn't be carried out until a team actually is obtained.

I think anyone who has tried to exit a Mariners game or a concert at KeyArena would take their chances with the former, any day of the week. The Port of Seattle remains steadfast in its objections to the Sodo arena, but as I've written before, Hansen doesn't necessarily need to win over the Port. He needs to win over a majority of the Seattle City Council, if and when it's asked to revote on the Occidental Avenue street vacation that failed by a 5-4 vote in May.

This might be naĆÆve on my part - wouldn't be the first time - but I'm wondering if there isn't ultimately a way to make (almost) everyone happy in this little exercise. Namely, to put the sports arena in Sodo and empower either Oak View or AEG to spiffy up KeyArena as a state-of-the-art concert venue, sans sports, as has been done in Inglewood, California, at the Forum, an Oak View client.

Speaking to Dave "Softy" Mahler on KJR on Thursday, Hansen said he thought KeyArena could be "an incredible small, intimate music venue. If I was the city and could have both, I think that would be a pretty good outcome. There's no reason you can't have a great music venue side by side with a great sports venue."

One reason, of course, would be if the new sports venue hogged all the A-list music groups and other top attractions. Spitballing here, but what if Hansen's coup de grace when it comes to sweeteners was some sort of assurance that if his site is approved for the sports arena, he'd work with the Key landlords to assure they get enough big-name acts to make their site viable as well.

No doubt, there is much acrimony to come as this process moves forward. There's also the key matter of actually obtaining a real, live team, either currently existing or created through expansion, to play in Seattle - and coming up with the exorbitant amounts of money to pay for that process.

That's the bailiwick of the group that's awarded the arena. Can't wait to find out who it's going to be.

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February 20, 2017


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