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Design Commission Fires Back at Port Before Unanimously Advancing Sodo Arena

The SDC unanimously voted to move forward with the project, while telling the Port of Seattle they need to "stretch and bend."

After a roughly three hour meeting, including a presentation from HOK Architecture (which you can view for yourself here), the Seattle Design Commission voted on the urban design merit for Chris Hansen's Seattle Arena plan, and unanimously approved by a tally of 8-0.

The Seattle Mariners had a voice in the meeting, and were surprisingly cooperative. According to KING5's Chris Daniels, the Mariners were more "conciliatory" and said that the arena and shared traffic is "possible to do with this plan," a seeming departure from their previous worries.

The Port of Seattle, on the other hand, remained steadfast in their opposition, drawing a sharp rebuke from Seattle Design Commission Chair Shannon Loew.  Lowe advised the Port that it was time for some "tough love," and advised the taxpayer supported organization that they needed to "stretch and bend" for the good of the community.

"A solution is not to put up barricades around growth," he stated in regards to their ongoing efforts to oppose the project.

The Port has been standing in the way of the arena's progress since the project's inception.  In all that time they have failed to convince leadership of their position.

The Design Commission's was not the first organization to criticize the Port leadership.  The Port is currently at odds with just about the entire political community over their decision to host a Shell Oil Rig without appropriate public process.  They also have a longstanding history of manipulating data.  A 2009 Municipal League report, which reviewed the $91 million subsidy which funds their operations found that:

"The Port justifies nearly all of its decisions on broad claims of ‘economic impacts.' References to large numbers of jobs created or taxes generated are meaningless without analysis of the related costs that produce such benefits and the forgone opportunities that might have been sought."

Even former Port Commissioner Gael Tarleton referred to the use of old and incomplete studies as "a fair criticism" when the Port acknowledged in 2012 that their criticism of the project was unfounded.

More than three years later the Port has failed to make that case.  Despite their best legal efforts during a nearly 3 year vetting process, the recently released Final Environmental Impact Statement estimated the annual delay costs to Port related traffic from additional Arena traffic be $115,584. For non-Port truck trips the estimated delay costs are estimated to be $66,141, an almost insignificant amount given their protest.

"The Port of Seattle is tone deaf to city politics and has been re-hashing the same arguments against this project for more than 3 years." says Sonics Rising Founder Brian Robinson,  "They continue directly challenging the mayor and county executive on this issue despite failing to substantiate any of their supposed reasons over a three year period.  The simple truth is that Port Leadership has lost credibility because they inflate their numbers."

Former Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, who originally championed the arena project, was deferential to the Port's history but offered criticism of their misuse of power.

"Seattle's port has deep cultural meaning to Seattle - we wouldn't be a city without it and its contribution to the local economy remains immense. But they misuse their heritage and power when they block other parts of our heritage, like the Seattle Supersonics. A big city should accommodate everything that makes us special."

With the Mariners now - even perhaps reluctantly - on board, the Port stands alone. Despite articles that seemed to lend towards the contrary, both Mayor Ed Murray and City Councilman Tim Burgess have recently affirmed their support of the project. Burgess was quoted by the Seattle Times' Danny Westneat as essentially saying the arena would need to go fully private or die on the vine. However he clarified those comments, saying that a new MOU, with more private funding, would need to be put in place in order for the arena to be built with a hockey team as the primary tenant. A similar situation occurred with Murray, who caused a temporary uproar when he was quoted as saying that more private money would be required, before he then clarified that he, too, was discussing an NHL-first modification to the MOU. Murray, through a spokesperson, recently re-iterated that the mayor is committed "to moving forward on getting the Seattle arena built."

It is good to see champions like Shannon Loew take the Port to task for their continued opposition to the Sodo arena.  Having spent more than three years trying to make their case it is time for the Port of Seattle to acknowledge that they have not proven their case and move on to more important issues.

The next step for the arena is another vote from the Seattle Design Commission, this one on the public benefit of the vacation of a strip of Occidental Avenue between S Holgate Street and S Massachusetts Street. That vote is tentatively scheduled for June 18. The SDC would then pass on a recommendation on the street vacation to the Seattle Department of Transportation, who would then have the final say.