The proposed street vacation for the Seattle Arena project would be contingent on the acquisition of either an NBA or NHL team the project group clarified in a letter to Seattle mayor Ed Murray, the city council, and King County executive Dow Constantine on Thursday.
The letter is sent to formalize the new offer from the group for consideration by the city. It also states they will be submitting their new street vacation application soon.
To allay concerns of some council members expressed during last May’s vote that denied the conditional street vacation for the project, the group — comprised of hedge fund manager Chris Hansen, former Sonics executive Wally Walker, local retail scions Pete and Erik Nordstrom, and newly minted member (and Seattle Seahawks starting quarterback) Russell Wilson — made clear that if the street vacation were granted on a conditional basis, they would agree that it could not be finalized unless a team were acquired to begin construction of the arena in the SoDo district.
More important, this would open the possibility of either an NBA or an NHL franchise being the catalyst to start the project. Under the Memorandum of Understanding signed by the city, county, and private group in October 2012 to explore the arena project, an “NHL-first” option was not available.
With this condition in place, the group stresses that a conditional street vacation for the SoDo project would not interrupt the Request For Proposal process the city expects to open in January 2017 to explore potential renovation of KeyArena as an arena solution. They argue that, alongside the RFP, the vacation “puts the city in the best possible position to take advantage of franchise opportunities that could become available.”
One of the two groups that has publicly expressed interest in a potential renovation, Tim Leiweke’s Oak View Group, just hired former Seahawks and UW executive Lance Lopes to handle their bid, the Seattle Times reports. The Times also reveals they’ve hired ICON Venue Group to head the redesign proposal.
Following up on a letter the Seattle Arena group sent to city leaders on October 25, 2016, their new proposal would tear up the existing MOU. Investment in the project would become fully private and the proposed public contribution and tax framework to pay it off would cease to exist.
The design plans submitted and approved by the city’s design board, as well as the package of public benefits offered for the street vacation vetted and recommended by both the design commission and the Department of Transportation, will remain the same. That includes regrading of both Massachusetts and Holgate streets, the limited access alleyway that can be used by the Seattle Mariners for their games, and the pedestrian bridge on Holgate to safely cross the railway tracks, amongst other things.
The group agrees that any money they pay for the two-block section of Occidental Ave South vacated by the city should be directed specifically to the Lander Street Overpass project to aid in freight mobility improvement. They will add some additional improvements as part of their public benefits package for the new street vacation application.
The group also agrees to maintain the event scheduling agreements worked out with the Seahawks, Sounders, and Mariners ahead of the previous street vacation vote. They also reiterate their commitment to fair labor agreements and working with minority- and women-owned and operated businesses.
In exchange, they formally ask for a waiver of the city’s admission taxes on the new arena to match similar exemptions for both CenturyLink Field and Safeco Field. They also seek an adjustment to the city’s Business and Occupational Tax for national broadcast media.
In a commentary on the arena group’s website, Russell Wilson adds his thoughts about approving the street vacation:
Approving the conditional street vacation makes the Arena shovel-ready, and sends a loud message to the NBA and NHL that Seattle is ready and eager for teams. That we want our Sonics back to accompany the Storm, and a hockey team to pick up where the Seattle Metropolitans left off nearly a century ago. All we need is for the Seattle City Council to make this one last nod of approval.
Read the letter in full below: