I encourage all of you to read both parts of Art Thiel's interview of Chris Hansen, the developer proposing to build an arena in Seattle.
At present time, we are waiting for the proposal to move into the Seattle City Council and the King County Council for agreement on the Memorandum of Understanding, that will enable Mr. Hansen to move forward on commitments and further planning.
Here are a couple excepts from the interview, as well as links to the full interviews.
Q: Regarding the controversy over traffic and parking raised by SoDo businesses including the Mariners, does it feel as if you walked into a family fight about commitments unkept by the city?
A: I knew a little bit, but probably not enough. I went at the site selection in a non-political way. Itâ€™s a great site with two stadiums already here. And any event at the arena would bring half the crowd of the other venues. If (other sports teams) can get people in and out, it should be relatively easy for us.
Traffic will be a problem with any site. The port has valid concerns. But most of the problems existed before we got here. If you use the analogy of a carâ€™s carbon footprint, if we we can make the arenaâ€™s carbon footprint negative, weâ€™re doing a good thing. The thing we underestimated was people using our project as a tool to get their needs addressed before we ever brought up the project.
Q: So the arena represents leverage for some constituencies?
A: Iâ€™m sure at some level thatâ€™s probably the thinking. But it would be unfair of me to comment.
. . .
Q: Please review again your reasons for choosing this site.
A: No. 1 is zoning, No. 2 is minimal environmental (displacement) impact. The loss to maritime and industry workspace gets a little overstated. Very few of the businesses (on the purchased property) are maritime and industrial. So the impact on the community is less. No. 3 is transportation, which was a critical asset for us here: The connection to I-90, the ferries, heavy and light rail terminals. I think (King County Executive) Dow Constantine said it well when he said you couldnâ€™t get a spot anywhere in the region more connected to more public transportation than this site. I donâ€™t know why it hasnâ€™t been more discussed.
If you took the same issues pitched against the site about traffic against the other sites mentioned, they wouldnâ€™t fare as well. This is an urban site thatâ€™s connected by numerous methods of mass transit thatâ€™s within walking distance of where a large number of people work. If itâ€™s advantageous to fans, itâ€™s advantageous to us.
The best comparison is the lift the Giants got from leaving Candlestick Park for San Francisco. They got a lift from attendance and ticket prices. Fans thought Candlestick was an awful experience and AT&T Park is an incredible experience.
A San Francisco TV station recently did a look back to the issues about the new park before the Giants committed to moving. It was exactly the same as ours now in Seattle: Parking, traffic, itâ€™s going to be a disaster. The point is they figured it out. One of the solutions was how they directed street cars and buses to get people in and out. Thereâ€™s so much parking downtown (after business hours) and you donâ€™t have to move people very far. People adapt to taking a street car for five minutes to avoid the traffic around the arena.
Itâ€™s a complex opportunity to adapt and expand the infrastructure in place to move a large portion of the fan base. Thatâ€™s a long-term solution. Thereâ€™s an easier, perhaps temporary solution, which is exiting people to downtown, where there is a huge inventory of (after business hours) parking. This is what happened in San Francisco. People arenâ€™t taking the street car from their house, they drive downtown, park inexpensively, and take the transit to the arena.
It was a long process encouraged by the Giants themselves to change behavior. Now itâ€™s clockwork.
Q: Beyond the arena itself, how important to the arena project is the creation of an entertainment district in SoDo?
A: I think itâ€™s important. Whatever we do wonâ€™t be on the scale or design of LA Live! But it will fit with our community. Having a better vibe around the arena would be great for fans. People would enjoying coming to more games if there were more to do pre- and post-game within walking distance of the arena.
The fan experience at Fenway Park or Wrigley Field is more than just the park itself. Few fans would argue that Fenway/Wrigley experience is worse than driving 20 minutes to a suburban location surrounded by a parking lot, where you get in your car and leave after the game.
. . .
SportsPressNW.com, HANSEN: PUTTING TRAFFIC FIX ALL ON ARENA â€˜UNFAIRâ€™
Front loading the interview with concerns from the opposition allowed those things to be addressed (or not) right up front, allowing the interview to avoid pointless fishing for facts, and go into more useful depth.
Mr. Hansen's answers are not terribly surprising to people that have been paying close attention to the situation over the past 2 or 9 years. The specificity of the details in the questions he was willing to answer does indicate that he has given this some thought.
Now, on to part 2 of the interview. I encourage all of you to read the entire interview since much of it will be repeated many times to many people that haven't been paying attention, the Julia Patterson's of the world (not an insult, just a fact, other people have other lives).
Q. Every potential owner-partner can come with his or her own agenda. How do you manage that?
A. The previous group had 58 members. Thatâ€™s too many. Less than 10 is a better number. I would encourage a diversity of opinions and perspective. You want them to have your values but not necessarily your perspective. Thatâ€™s helpful.
Q. Have you made agreements with any investors?
A. Letâ€™s put it this way. Thereâ€™s nothing to sign up for right now. There are a lot of people who are interested. Thereâ€™s a question for me as to how they fit in, and a question for them of how it fits into their lives and priorities. Iâ€™m not under any pressure to to put a group together. Iâ€™m financing the land acquisition myself. There will be plenty of household names on the list. I think you guys (media) should rest assured that a lot of the right people are interested.
. . .
Q. What remains to be done on the MOU?
A. I wonâ€™t say thereâ€™s resolution, but thereâ€™s an understanding between county, city and us. Weâ€™re solving minor, technical issues. Our negotiations with the city have been about â€˜How do we get this done?â€™ Weâ€™ve never asked anything more. The city and county have been good on their word.
Q. If the traffic study you are funding comes up with an expensive mitigation cost, what happens?
A. Thereâ€™s a dual obligation. Itâ€™s my obligation to make sure that for this project, the pluses outweigh the minuses â€” a net positive. And thereâ€™s some obligation from me to be part of the discussion that resolves the longer-term issues facing the project.
And the city and county have an obligation. Pinning the entire (traffic mitigation) issue on me, I would say, is unfair. Pinning the broader issues that pre-dated me and will post-date me, is unfair. We would be one of many constituencies down there to figure it out.
SportsPressNW.com, HANSEN, PART 2: â€œTHIS ARENA IS NOT A HOBBYâ€
This is a very good interview in form and content. Well done, Mr. Thiel.
We get so much hyperbolic handwringing in the press that something as basic a a long-form interview is refreshing. I recognize that it is a fair set of questions with, although measured, one sided answers. That's ok, if the opposition would like to engage in a similarly measured and informative interview I think the public would be well served (I'm not holding my breath).