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SoDo Arena: Design Commission Meets on Public Benefit

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The street vacation dance for the SoDo arena continues.

Seattle Design Commission & HOK Architects

No vote was held today on the second and final of the recommendations of the Seattle Design Commission regarding a street vacation for the SoDo arena project proposal.

The SDC met Thursday morning to hear a presentation on the potential public benefits of vacating a strip of S Occidental Ave. to allow for the arena project to move forward. The lead lawyer and architects for investor Chris Hansen's arena group presented and participated in a discussion to determine just what value the citizens receive for giving up this two-block stretch of road.

The investment group's presentation didn't offer anything revelatory or new to the proceeding but instead provided fine points on the long-gestating project. A pedestrian bridge concept that was introduced to the SDC at a meeting back in April was given better definition, firmly deciding on one solution to place the structure along the northern edge of S. Holgate St. The bridge's western landing will connect to the new arena, as well as allow access to the street below. As part of the public benefit, a public art display is proposed for the northern side of the bridge.

The presentation continued to stress accessibility and positive flow for cars, mass transit by bus and light rail, foot and bike traffic. Right-of-way improvements to the street and sidewalks along First Avenue South, the S Massachusetts St. realignment, and numerous intersection improvements along the corridor were cited. The proposal also includes a repavement of Holgate St. to assist in better freight mobility. The requirement that the arena investment group contribute to a $40 million transportation improvement fund as part of the financial framework of the arena, if approved, was also a highlight.

A tree canopy along the south and western edges of the arena property, and a water re-use plan for the building and plaza were key green initiative spotlights. The open public use space of the planned plaza, as well as year-round use of retail space along First Ave. S were also identified benefits.

The SDC voted unanimously last month to recommend the project and street vacation based on its merits in an urban design setting. Though it was reported that a possible vote on the public benefit could take place at Thursday's meeting, a vote was never officially scheduled.

According to Mayor Murray's original arena timeline, the two-vote process by the SDC is expected to be completed by the end of August. A vote is tentatively scheduled for the commission's August 6th meeting, but that meeting's agenda has not yet been set.

The two recommendation votes are forwarded to the Seattle Department of Transportation. SDOT will take those votes into consideration, along with a report it is preparing on the costs and logistics of the street vacation, and present a recommendation to the Seattle City Council. The council is expected to introduce a motion on the street vacation at some point in September and schedule a public hearing on the matter shortly after.

The mayor's timeline has the council considering the SDOT report and recommendation, as well as the public comments, through the end of the year before voting. This is likely in anticipation of council district elections in the fall.

A positive vote on the street vacation is one of two final steps toward a decision on the Master Use Permit for the project. A meeting on the second step, a final recommendation on the architectural design of the arena project by the Downtown Design Review Board, has not yet been scheduled.

While not the most exciting news, the arena project continues to move forward, trading on momentum gained by the release of the Final Environmental Impact Statement in early May.