Recently, the Seattle Times editorial board posted an op-ed piece entitled "Wait for NBA team before vacating road in Sodo near proposed arena." We're not going to post a link, but the headline sums up the entire article rather well. This is nothing more than a fake concession. It makes the Times appear to be willing to let the street be vacated, but only once a team is within reach. The problem with that line of thinking is quite obvious; arena issues are why the team left in 2008. Changing nothing and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. No league is going to issue a team without a shovel-ready arena plan, and the Times knows this as well as anyone else.
We keep hearing that term "shovel-ready" pertaining to the Sonics Arena. What does it take for a project like this to become "shovel-ready?" Well, to boil it down to the simplest terms, it means construction can begin at any time the developer sees fit. In this specific case, the one obstacle to a shovel-ready status is the street vacation vote (hopefully at the end of April, preceded by the March 15 Council meeting). If the city approves Hansen's request to void the street, he would have the freedom to start construction the very next day (as was explained in detail in Matt Tucker's post earlier this month). It's a crucial step, without which the entire project grinds to a halt and likely dies a lonely death.
There have been a number of new stadiums built across the country in the last five years, and when a team move is threatened the group that gets an arena plan shovel-ready first almost always ends up with the team.
Sacramento, CA, 2013
The Sacramento Kings initially started discussing a new arena way back in 1996. The discussions intensified in 2001 after owner Jim Thomas sold the team to the Maloof family. In 2002, there was a commitment to a plan before the Maloofs dropped out. They tried again in 2004, only to be unable to negotiate with the Maloofs. This happened again in 2006. And again in 2012. Rumors began to swirl of the Maloofs wanting to move the team to Las Vegas. And then... Chris Hansen appeared. The NBA ended up voiding the sale of the team after a group of Sacramento "whales" managed to put together a workable ownership model and a shovel-ready arena plan. Now under construction, the Golden 1 Center is the number one (maybe 1a if you count a defiant David Stern) reason that the Kings continue to play their home games in northern California.
Milwaukee, WI, 2015
The Milwaukee Bucks first began discussing a new arena in 2012. Then-owner Herb Kohl agreed to contribute significantly to its construction. When Adam Silver took over as commissioner of the NBA, he told the Bucks that the Bradley Center was no longer up to the league's standards and would need to be replaced. Kohl then sold the team to New York hedge fund managers Marc Lasry and Wes Edens, and used part of his profit to contribute to a new arena. As a political battle waged on, the threat of Seattle again appeared, although this time not from the 206 area code. Bucks team president Peter Feigin said that without a new arena in place, the NBA would move the team to "Las Vegas or Seattle." Eventually, concessions were made and a new arena was approved. The i's were dotted, the t's were crossed, and the Bucks stayed put thanks to... a shovel-ready arena.
Los Angeles, CA, 2016
Seattle's fight for the Sonics has often been compared to LA's attempts to replace the NFL teams they lost in 1995. Since then, whenever a team wanted a new stadium the threat of LA would loom, despite there not being an adequate venue in the city for them to play. Now, after 20 years, the Rams are moving back to the City of Angels (or, you know, Inglewood). Rams owner Stan Kroenke purchased 60 acres of land in a Los Angeles suburb in 2014 explicitly for the purpose of building a new home for his team. A competing stadium plan in Carson appeared. Eventually, the NFL decided to go with Kroenke's plan over the Carson plan for one major reason. Care to guess what it was? That's right! Because it was shovel-ready.
The NBA continues to publicly say that there is no team coming to Seattle. They say expansion is not on the table. However, right now they have a giant excuse. They can always say "Seattle isn't ready." They can say "the team left because there was no arena and there's still no arena." Getting Sonics Arena shovel-ready takes away that excuse. It puts all the pressure on the league. The MOU has built-in safety nets for the city: there is no public financing permitted without a team acquired. The NBA may or may not be willing to expand, but without the street vacation, Seattle will never have a chance to find out.