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No street vacation vote this month, Port of Tacoma joins the fight

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Occidental Ave on a typical afternoon
Occidental Ave on a typical afternoon
Jason Puckett

The Port of Tacoma has aligned itself with the Port of Seattle in its fight against Chris Hansen and his SoDo arena project.

In a meeting this morning, the combined maritime interest group expressed their concern about the vacation of a strip of Occidental Ave S to make way for the arena. Despite evidence to the contrary, including a report that was negotiated by the Port of Seattle itself, the group claims that vacating the street would cause significant damage to the Port's operations. "We believe (the street vacation) would make that less functional," said Port of Seattle Deputy CEO Kurt Beckett, claiming that Occidental accounts for 10% of the State Route 519 corridor.

Chris Daniels reports that the Port of Tacoma "seemed confused" about the issue but regardless signed a "statement of principles" regarding the development. The statement, which was passed unanimously by the SeaPort Alliance, reads, "We oppose non-industrial and non-maritime expansion around the North Harbor that will restrict freight mobility, constrain the anticipated development of marine cargo facilities, and limit the growth of related middle-class jobs."

Port of Seattle Commissioner Stephanie Bowman claimed the Port was "snookered" (huh?) by the recommendation from the SDOT and took offense to the claim that this strip of Occidental is not part of the Heavy Haul corridor which, again, was negotiated by the Port of Seattle. She then threatened for the Port to pull their funding of the Lander Street Overpass, something that they pushed for in the first place.

In addition, new Sustainability and Transportation Committee chairman Mike O'Brien said that the street vacation would not be on the agenda for the January 22 meeting, meaning the earliest it could be taken up by the council is February. O'Brien was a supporter of the original Memorandum of Understanding so it's unclear why he is dragging his feet on this. According to Daniels, "Sources at Seattle City Hall have suggested that O'Brien will, eventually, have at least one committee meeting on the issue and hold a public meeting before a committee vote occurs.  The vacation would then need full council approval."

The SDOT recommendation claims that without the street approval, Chris Hansen would build two office buildings on either side of the street, and would be under no obligation to provide funds for the pedestrian bridge over the train tracks, the nearby parking garage, or improvements to the sidewalks and nearby sewer systems. The city would also lose the money Hansen has pledged towards transportation and KeyArena renovations.

The NBA and NHL are both quietly keeping an eye on the arena situation.

CORRECTION: Article updated to correct name of Port Commissioner Stephanie Bowman. She was incorrectly identified as Stephanie Booker in original version.