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Seattle Arena Round-Up

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Where do the various attempts at a new Seattle arena stand?

Populous; CBS Seattle; HOK Architecture

SoDo keeps a slow and steady pace; the Seattle City Council considers the potential of a KeyArena redo; Bellevue has no pulse; and Tukwila dutifully inches forward but may lose its private investor and the whole project. This week on Arena Round-Up!

Buddy of the site and sometimes social media curmudgeon Geoff Baker of The Seattle Times does some journeyman work in a simple, informed update of the Seattle Arena Situation 2015 (and 2016, and 2017, and...). Wielding the mighty power of the public records request, Baker provides updates for each of the four major sites considered in a new sports and entertainment facility in the Seattle area, as well as some insight into the busted Seattle efforts in the NHL expansion process.

Let's look at a brief recap of each.

SEATTLE ARENA (SODO)

The Seattle Arena project in SoDo cleared the two design administrative bodies for recommendation with flying colors in May and early last month. The next step involves a report from the Seattle Department of Transportation on the feasibility of a vacation of a stretch of Occidental Ave S that bisects the proposed arena site, as well as their recommendation -- which would appear to be a positive one -- submitted to the Seattle City Council.

We'd heard that it would take about a month from the Seattle Design Commission's second vote on recommendation for SDOT to compile the report. Sonics Rising reached out to the Department of Planning and Development for an update last week, but we've not yet heard back.

The council would then propose the legislation of the street vacation, offer a public meeting to consider both sides, and then hold a vote. With the council elections in less than a month, such a vote is not expected until the end of the year at the earliest.

Right now, investor Chris Hansen's project is still the most viable and on-track of the four potential sites.

KEYARENA (SEATTLE CENTER)

An economic assessment study on the future use of KeyArena surfaced a couple of weeks ago that naturally sent many into a tizzy.

Without context, this study would seem like the city council's latest attempt to see if they could gussy up KeyArena once again. However, it should be noted that this study was the result of one of the city's responsibilities as laid out in the SoDo project MOU. They must determine just what they will do with KeyArena in the event of another arena.

Some traction on the possibility of a KeyArena remodel spiked the news when out-going councilmember Jean Godden suggested that the option would be cheaper at $285 million than to participate in a new facility. With the SoDo effort expected to be a $550M project, there is some truth to that, but it is conditional. A Key redo would likely be entirely on the city. Even if they were to attract private investment for the project, the bulk will almost assuredly fall to the city, which makes the potential investment more than what the city would contribute to the SoDo project or, at best, a wash.

If it were a wash, Baker points out having arena location options could sway the council. Some on the council might consider the Seattle Center site a more appealing option than the SoDo project, primarily because the city already owns the facility and land. They would own the facility and land in SoDo, as well, as part of the negotiated financial framework, but will still have to figure out what to do with KeyArena.

(Don't let this conundrum fool you; the city has to figure out what to do with the Key no matter what. The study offers a few worthwhile suggestions.)

There are a lot of factors to consider in a Key redo, not least of which is the growing traffic concern in that neck of the woods. It would seem to be escalating worse than the SoDo area in the next few years, due to development and an expected large daily in-swell of employees when Expedia moves its headquarters from Bellevue to a waterfront location adjacent to Lower Queen Anne in 2018.

BELLEVUE ARENA

Interests have been looking a tract of land in Bellevue's Wilburton District for years. The current land owner, IntraVest Development out of Phoenix, was recently working with longtime NBA and NHL man Jac Sperling on securing the location for a new arena. The requirement for the project, Baker reveals, was a $200 million commitment from the City of Bellevue, which they were hesitant to immediately sign off on.

The hesitation resulted in the potential largest private investor walking away from the project. Baker states that the efforts in Bellevue are now dead.

For anyone following this story for a long time, this is status quo for Bellevue. The location seems to be the preferred one in the city, and the project seems to die on the vine only to be resurrected when you least expect. Don't be shocked if somehow this gets jumpstarted again (only to probably die once more and restart the cycle).

NORTHWEST ARENA (TUKWILA)

The most interesting news in Baker's report is actually less surprising than it is clarifying. Tukwila continues to move forward with the environmental review process for the proposed arena, but lead potential investor Ray Bartoszek seems to be coming up short on the money side to keep the project going. Bartoszek lost his primary money guy back in early July, which greatly impacted his decision not to file for NHL expansion like he'd stated he would.

Apparently, the City of Tukwila was shocked by Bartoszek not applying for an expansion team, and there is now concern that he won't be able to provide full compensation for the city's consultation during the increasingly spendy review process as he agreed to.

According to Baker's sources, a decision will be made by the end of October as to whether or not Bartoszek will continue to pursue the project. This appears to be dependent on if he finds a key investor.

That's a relatively short time to find out if the lights stay on or the plug is pulled (and other mixed idioms). Baker has had a pretty good read on the pulse of the Tukwila situation along the way, though, so be prepared.

NHL EXPANSION FALLOUT

The NHL still has yet to complete its expansion process. In the last couple of weeks, both of the groups from Las Vegas and Quebec City that applied for expansion went before the NHL Board of Governors to present their proposals. A decision has been postponed until December at the earliest, but could potentially not occur until the BOG meeting after the end of the 2015-16 season in June of next year.

There is speculation that the NHL is still keen on Seattle being one of their next markets, and that the hold on the process is potentially to allow Seattle to sort out its arena situation to be able to submit an expansion application next year. That's contrary to the NHL's public comments on the process, but they also kept denying they were considering expansion up until they announced an expansion process. Grain of salt either way here.

Relocation of a troubled team to the Seattle market is still eyed as the likeliest option for an NHL club in the Emerald City.

Baker's report illuminates some of the behind-the-scenes aspects of the NHL side of the process as related to each of the potential arenas. Victor Coleman, the prospective NHL partner in the SoDo site, made news when he reached out to the NHL for an expansion application packet only to declare he wouldn't be applying. Notes from the city state that Coleman wouldn't apply because he couldn't control whether or not the SoDo arena would get approved.

For his part, Coleman's people insist he is still committed to working with Hansen on the SoDo site, though Baker notes that there is still no financial agreement between Hansen's and Coleman's groups. Rollin Fatland, Hansen's PR guy, offered this quote: "Chris Hansen has had discussions with Mr. Coleman and others but has never ‘partnered’ with anyone yet."

Baker offers some other good tidbits on both the Tukwila and Bellevue situations, and the article is definitely worth a read.

For those keeping score, SoDo is still viable but not a slam dunk; KeyArena isn't that viable but might prove to be a thorn in the arena process; Bellevue is dead (for now); and Tukwila is potentially but unofficially on life support.

UPDATE (10/13/15): DPD confirms that the SDOT report & recommendation are on schedule and will be submitted to the city council in November prior to the Thanksgiving holiday.