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Light Rail to Key Arena in 2038

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Light rail to Seattle Center might support a Key Arena remodel in the year 2038.

Last June, a report stating that a Key Arena remodel might be a viable option for the NBA and NHL drew the interest of many, but most notably by Seattle City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw. One obvious drawback to a Key Arena location is the increased traffic congestion, with so many businesses moving in to the nearby South Lake Union neighborhood since the Sonics left Seattle in 2008. A possible solution to the traffic problem would be the expansion of light rail from downtown to the Ballard neighborhood, passing near Seattle Center.

During her re-election campaign, Bagshaw stated how the addition of light rail supports her preference for Key Arena as a home for the NBA and NHL.

Bagshaw said she preferred the Seattle Center alternative to the proposed SoDo location because it would encourage transit riders to further utilize businesses and resources that are available in the Seattle Center.

It "is where we should have our arts and culture district," she said. "We have the ballet, opera, the Armory and we’ve got KEXP. If people can get there and get to an arena by light rail, KeyArena could be a place for us to be reestablishing the place where people can go for sports, as well."

Queen Anne & Magnolia News, 9/29/2015

Bagshaw also mentioned how much traffic there already is and a light rail route is the only way Key Arena would make sense.

However, Bagshaw said a Key Arena renovation should only be considered if Sound Transit 3 is approved by voters next year, which could provide light rail, years down the road, to the Seattle Center area.

"ST3 only," she said. "If it goes there, it makes sense. There is so much traffic in that area (already)." The Environmental Review of Hansen's plan noted that there are congestion, traffic, and parking concerns that are far greater near Seattle Center than in SoDo.

KING-TV, 9/25/2015

Seattle Center as a home for the NBA and NHL depends on light rail showing up.

Last Thursday, Sound Transit released their draft map of the next phase of light rail, showing the route. That's great for Key Arena proponents.

ST3 Ballard

Ballard Route

What's wasn't so great was that the timeline for completing that route put the finish date in 2038. (Yes, that's a 3 in there.)

Light rail will eventually go to Seattle Center, and Key Arena, but 22 years from now. 22 years. Jamal Crawford will be 58 by then (probably still playing, though).

ST3 Ballard Schedule

LR to Ballard 2038

Okay, let's pretend that 22 years to wait for light rail wasn't an absurdly long period of time to wait, and look a little deeper into Seattle's pet dinosaur, Key Arena. And let's pretend you are a little street-rat crazy for a minute.

Two things are true: Even if somebody stepped up today and offered to pay for a Key Arena remodel it would be 22 years before a Key Arena location is supported by light rail. And the reported and unsupported $285 million dollar price tag to remodel Key Arena has been described as "smoke and mirrors".

The fact remains that nothing has stopped anybody from raising their hand to volunteer to fund it. Nobody has, and prospects are nil. At best, a Key Arena remodel is a timeless and priceless fantasy, existing in a universe that operates in an atmosphere that desires stability and well reasoned possibility.

Okay, so maybe a remodel is out but a complete rebuild on the Key Arena were the council's choice, 22 years later. The option in the EIS for Key Arena site is not as a remodel but as a complete teardown and rebuild project. I suspected that a complete demolition of the 1962 World's Fair pavilion would meet with with some resistance from preservationists, so I contacted the Seattle Center Foundation to ask about demolishing Key Arena. I did not receive a direct response, but roughly a week later crosscut.com's Knute Berger happen to write an article that specifically addressed my question.

My answer

"…the report acknowledges that the roof of the Paul Thiry-designed arena is eligible for landmark status, and would almost certainly be landmarked if any major redevelopment was in the offing."

Crosscut, 11/23/2015

So, there will be no teardown of Key Arena. That option in the EIS is off the table. And Knute Berger's "winning play" for a Key Arena remodel is potentially viable, if somebody were actually interested in paying for it, but wouldn't happen until 2038.

The city council could say no and eat the reimbursement for the EIS from Chris Hansen. It doesn't get better. If the city council says no to an arena in SoDo, then an arena would sprout up someplace else long before 2038, outside of Seattle, relegating Key Arena to a white elephant.

Let's do the numbers

The new analysis of the Sodo arena shows that the the facility would have "a total net positive economic benefit" of between $230 million and $286 million a year to the economy of King County with most of the money flowing through the city of Seattle's economy.

But building the arena would hurt the maritime/industrial sector, which would lose up to $230,000 annually. Maritime officials have been vehemently against a Sodo arena– which has been proposed for a site near the Port of Seattle's Terminals 30 and 46 – since the idea surfaced.

- Puget Sound Business Journal, 5/7/2015

In both cases I am the taxpayer. I'll take the millions in net economic benefit over thousands in potential harm (real or imagined). It's that well-reasoned possibility of success for my city I choose.