Late Friday afternoon, we confirmed with the Seattle Department of Planning and Development that the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the SoDo arena proposal is on schedule to be published on May 7th, the deadline set by Mayor Ed Murray at the end of February.
Per the timeline established by the mayor, the next steps in the evaluation of the proposal for the city and county to determine the viability of the project have begun, continuing a process which went dormant for nearly 18 months awaiting the outcome of the environmental review.
First in that process is to study the proposed Occidental Ave street vacation, which would allow for an 18,000 - 20,000-seat multipurpose sports and entertainment arena to be built on the site owned by Chris Hansen's WSA Properties III, LLC ("ArenaCo," per the arena MOU).
Two city agencies, the Seattle Design Commission and the Seattle Department of Transportation, will be reviewing proposal materials to make recommendations to the city council on the vacation.
Last Thursday morning, Hansen's attorney and design team gave a presentation to the Design Commission. This was to update them on improvements to the land use plan based on the design review process and to make their case for the street vacation. The Design Commission votes on two distinct aspects for any public capital improvements projects or other projects and policies involving public land, the merit of urban design and the benefit to the public.
KING5-TV's Chris Daniels notes that the commission's vote for recommendation on the urban design merit will take place May 21st, while the vote for the recommendation on the public benefit will occur June 18th. These are actually ahead of the mayor's proposed timeline, which had each phase done by the end of June and the end of August, respectively.
So, the big question is what's new in the design of the arena since the September 2013 proposal submitted to the Downtown Design Review Board (a separate agency that provides design guidance and approval to private building construction). The answer is nothing dramatic.
Attorneys for the Port of Seattle and the Seattle Mariners attending the meeting were quick to point that out. Hansen's attorney, Jack McCullough, was just as quick to describe the refinements to an already impressive design that directly addressed concerns raised during both the design review and environmental review processes.
The most immediate of these were three proposals for a 700-foot long pedestrian bridge that would allow people to cross the train tracks on S Holgate Street without incident or interrupting train service or vehicle traffic. As anyone who has traveled through SoDo on game days knows, this would benefit not only the new arena but also foot traffic for Seahawks, Sounders, and even Mariners games.
McCullough stated WSA Properties is prepared to shoulder the cost of building the bridge, which was a delightful surprise to the SDOT representative at the meeting.
The next significant addition was the inclusion of the potential for parking afforded the project by warehousing land on the southeast corner of Holgate and Occidental that Hansen has an option to purchase. According to law regarding parking availability per capacity of a facility, the arena needs to provide at least 1726 spots. If the warehouse lot is used, it alone would offer 1740 spots. Surface stalls and spots within the on-site arena parking garage bring the total to 2057.
More important, this directly countered an argument brought by the Mariners that the arena plan assumed use of the Safeco Field parking garage. It's likely that Hansen's group would prefer to work out some arrangement to use the Mariners' parking when available, but that they have a more than suitable back-up option. "We could get it tomorrow," McCullough offered.
In addition, the renderings featured new expanded width sidewalks around the arena that would allow comfortable movement of pedestrian traffic while not affecting the road lanes of 1st Ave S and Holgate. The sidewalks would actually be wider than those built for Safeco Field, with a standard width of 24 feet and an 8 foot furniture zone for tree planting and items like benches. Sidewalks around the baseball park offer 18 foot width and a 6 foot furniture zone.
They also expounded upon the multi-use feature of the main entrance plaza at 1st and Massachusetts. Outside of the obvious use for the space and its large viewing screen on gamedays, designs touted its versatility for things like farmers markets, festivals, community organization gatherings, arts benefits, and large crowd viewing for other sporting events. These were ideas that really sparked with the Design Commission.
The rest of the 73-page document drafted by the HOK architectural firm -- the firm hired by Hansen, 360 Architecture, was acquired by HOK earlier this year -- provides evidence for the merit of the project and street vacation by showing a comparison of the land used for an arena against the land used for retail and office space. It also delves into detail about expected vehicle, foot, bike, and mass transit traffic patterns to and from the arena, and offers a proposal of a shuttle service between the arena, the potential new parking garage, and King Street Station that loops through SoDo.
Overall, it reinforces the exceptional design work that had already gone into the project and builds a strong case to recommend the street vacation. The Design Commission would like to see more about the pedestrian bridge and the shuttle service but were otherwise very positive to the merits of the design.
SDOT is also meeting to prepare its own report and recommendation to the city council on the street vacation. Information from the FEIS might be necessary to complete their work.
With a favorable recommendation from both agencies, a resolution from the city council would be anticipated in Q3 with a public hearing or hearings then to be scheduled before the council votes to approve the vacation or not.