Welcome back to the party you hope ends soon, my friends.
Previously on Seattle Arena FEIS, we covered what happens immediately after the FEIS publication and the issue of appeals. Now, we get to hammer home some points about what they'll do with that FEIS.
Some of this is, no doubt, sure to sound familiar to you. In fact, a lot of this is already gleaned from Mayor Murray's timeline on the arena process released at the end of February. Considering this held to the May 7th deadline for the FEIS, it's a strong foundation from which to work on what happens next.
If You Will Permit Me...
Let's revisit the mayor's timeline for a moment.
Something that immediately jumps out to us is the red bar used to indicate the participation of the Seattle Design Commission. For those not familiar, the SDC is the agency that provides advice to the city on capital improvements, as well as the design of projects that use public lands in a broad city sense. They also assist on policy for such projects across the city.
The reason to make the distinction, other than to brag how knowledgeable we've become for no discernible reason, is that another group, the Downtown Design Review Board, is actually the organization that provides guidance on the specific design of the arena and has to sign off on the final product to aid the Department of Planning and Development decision on permit approval. The two are frequently confused.
Some examples of SDC projects include the Broadway streetcar, Northgate station, and the Waterfront project.
SDC's role here is to assess and provide recommendations to the Seattle Department of Transportation regarding the street vacation of Occidental Avenue S between S Massachusetts Street and S Holgate Street. With this strip of road bisecting the proposed arena site, this is a vital step in moving forward.
SDOT, represented by the yellow bar above, prepares an official report to present to the Seattle City Council, along with a recommendation of thumb's up or slobbering raspberry on street vacation. That report takes into account traffic information, cost, and resources involved in giving up that portion of the street.
What's interesting to us about the SDC is that they have moved the milestones of their process up by nearly two months. There are two portions that go into their recommendation: the merit of the design in an urban setting, and the benefit of the project to the public.
In mid-April, the SDC held a meeting for the arena design team to present their case for both portions, and were said to feel "generally comfortable" with the information presented. A vote to determine their recommendation to SDOT on the urban design merit, which "[assesses] the function of the street system and how the street vacation impacts the remaining streets in the area" per DPD, was originally set for the end of June but will now be held on May 21st.
A separate vote on the public benefit will be held June 18th. It was originally planned for the end of August.
Why does that excite?
If you look at the timeline, a resolution by the Seattle City Council on the street vacation is planned to occur in late Q3, approximately in September. The public hearing on the matter looks to be scheduled within a few weeks of that resolution, then giving the city the entirety of the 4th quarter to consider the vacation and vote on it at the beginning of 2016. This is wholly dependent on the completed reviews and recommendations by the SDC and SDOT. With SDC's portion to be completed before the end of Q2 in June, the potential to move up that resolution and vote exists.
That also offers the potential to move the Master Use Permit decision up as well. In a best case scenario, that decision could now occur at the start of Q4 in October instead of early 2016.
That all hinges, however, on how long SDOT takes for their report and recommendation. The timeline has them finishing it no later than the end of August. It then goes to the council's transportation committee for vetting before bringing it to the full council.
MUP That Up
So, you collected the FEIS, passed by the SDC, took down the SDOT mini-boss, seduced the transportation committee, and finally bested the city council in a grueling boss battle to claim your prize of a street vacation. (No, it was not in another castle.)
What's left, fair champion?
One final meeting of the Downtown Design Review Board to offer their blessing on a recommendation of a finalized arena design. Then, the lead agency, Seattle DPD, simply issues a decision of yea or nay on the Master Use Permit. The Master Use Permit, or MUP, is an umbrella permit for the entirety of the project necessary to begin permitting on individual pieces, such as demolition, building construction, water, and electrical.
Nothing is a foregone conclusion, which is why this has a given process. Yet, if the city agrees to vacate the street for the project, it is more than likely that the MUP will be approved and issued.
So, When Can Construction Begin?
As you are certainly familiar with, per the terms agreed to in the Memorandum of Understanding, the city and county will not contribute the public end of the financing to the project until an NBA team is secured. Without the public financing, the private investment group, Chris Hansen's WSA Properties III, LLC, won't begin construction.
With those dominoes set, and an MUP in place, it becomes a waiting game on a team. This is where the discussion has shifted to the potential of a NHL team being secured first to trigger the financing and start the project. The NHL does not have an official process of expansion set yet, but their less-than-subtle intimations show a strong desire to award a new team to Seattle on condition of a new building to play in.
Seattle mayor Ed Murray has publicly come out in support of amending the existing MOU to allow for the NHL-first model. Hansen reiterated that his existing group is "100% open" to the idea of NHL-first if they are presented with a proposal that is not financially harmful to the city, county, or their investment group, as well as doesn't harm the existing MOU agreement.
The city reviewed the NHL-first approach during negotiations for the MOU three years ago and found that it wasn't viable given the economics of hockey at the time. Things have improved on that front, but the reluctance still exists. Murray spoke out yesterday to say that additional incentives would be needed from the prospective NHL ownership group to get the city and county councils comfortable with the idea of contributing to the project.
First, a prospective NHL group needs to submit a proposal of any kind for any of the parties to work with. Murray hopes to get a proposal and begin negotiations on the revised MOU so that the councils can vote on it in August or September. That timeline is important for two reasons: one, the NHL's Board of Governors is expected to formally announce an expansion process in June and award expansion in September; and two, city council district elections are coming in the fall.
If the MOU is amended to everyone's liking, and the councils vote to approve it, the prospect of an NHL team arriving in Seattle can begin the final project approval process.
Arena Project is Go!
With a team secured, be it an NBA or NHL franchise, the city can now decide if they want to participate in the project. A very important legal distinction here is that, even given all the work that has been and will be done to get to this point, the city and county are not obligated in any fashion to participate.
For the sake of argument, let's say they are willing. Now, negotiations of the Umbrella Agreement for the city and county to enter into the project with Hansen and the NHL camp can begin. These will incorporate either the original negotiated financial framework model or the revised one under an NHL-first MOU.
Somewhere along this process, the city and county councils will hold public meetings to get commentary on the idea of participating in the arena project, as well as feedback on the negotiated terms of the project agreement.
But, what about the naysayers, you ask? Well, draw an arrow up to the point where the MUP decision has been released. Once it has, that's when the period of appeals that we took a look at last time begins.
Will that slow any construction? Most likely not. Action on the MUP can occur once all the other dominoes have toppled in order. Though, opponents can certainly look to get a court injunction to stop any construction until appeals have been heard and ruled on. In many cases like this, an injunction is rare.
Well, there you have it, folks. Your next steps in the process following the release of the FEIS. That monster behemoth of a document (complete with appendices) will be used to inform the council in their decisions, aid in construction and mitigation of environmental impacts, and plead the case of the arena in any legal challenge.
Of course, now that you're at the end, we're just about ready to open the building on the 2018-19 season.