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Port of Seattle: Supporting Tukwila arena over SoDo arena

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Port of Seattle and Northwest Seaport Alliance disclosure requests reveal that the Port has been involved with the Tukwila arena project to the point of attending design meetings. They also reveal that initial plans were to break ground on the arena in December of last year.

It is no secret that local maritime interests oppose Chris Hansen's arena proposal, which is approaching a critical vote on the requested partial vacation of Occidental Avenue. It is also well known that they are pushing for arena locations any where but in SoDo.

Through public records requests to the Port of Seattle and the Northwest Seaport Alliance, we decided to take a peek behind the curtains to see how hard they are pushing. In this batch of disclosures, it's clear they have been very interested in, and even involved with, the Tukwila arena project.

PLANNING A RESPONSE TO SODO FEIS

It was the day before the long awaited release of the SoDo proposal's Final Environmental Impact Statement, and the Port of Seattle was preparing to respond. Mike Merritt, who would soon be named Port of Seattle Commission Chief of Staff, started the email exchange below to request a meeting of the minds.

In it, Merritt mentioned that Seattle Mayor Ed Murray would not endorse the Tukwila arena, which would seem to indicate that the mayor had been asked to do so.

In response, Strategic Communications Manager Susan Stoltzfus recommended that the Port publicly put its weight behind the Tukwila proposal, for the perception that the Port was "for something versus against something."

Merritt responded that they should "continue to promote alternative sites wherever they are."

MEETING WITH TUKWILA DESIGN TEAM

The  following email exchange shows that, five days after the FEIS release, Merritt and Port CEO Ted Fick accepted an invitation to a meeting with Jerry Lee, a couple of architects, and someone named Fred.

Lee is a partner of Ray Bartoszek on the Tukwila project, as is a "Fred" familiar to long-time Sonics fans, "Downtown Freddie" Brown. The architects were from Populous, the well-known arena firm that most recently worked on the Milwaukee arena project. Representatives of Mortenson Construction were also scheduled to attend.

Also included was Bart Waldman, who is the Executive Vice President, Legal & Governmental Affairs for the Seattle Mariners.

At this meeting, a status update was to be given and arena renderings displayed.

It appears from this exchange that they expected to break ground in December of last year, but that was before Bartoszek's primary investor backed out just as he was preparing an NHL expansion application.

MEETING RECAP BY FICK

In a document entitled "Hot Topics" on May 15, Fick did a quick summary of what he learned in the May 13 meeting, when he apparently learned that "the Tukwila plan is very viable and well planned with 100% funding."

ANOTHER MEETING WITH TUKWILA PEOPLE

About a month before the NHL's phase one expansion deadline, Merritt asked Port Commissioner John Creighton to attend a different meeting with representatives of the Tukwila project, headlined by Brown. Someone named Ted (likely Fick) was scheduled to attend, as was someone named Bowman, who might have been Port Commissioner Stephanie Bowman.

The specific agenda, other than "Tukwila arena project," is not mentioned.

SODO DETERRANCE STRATEGY

In a September 11 "Friday Memo" (friday_memo.0.docx ), Merritt made the statement below about Hansen's project. In it, he said "Port staff and other stakeholders are meeting to develop a City Council Strategy aimed at deterring the street vacation," noting that "potential costs of the project continue to grow" due to a pedestrian bridge and parking structure.

SO WHAT NOW?

So now we've peeked behind the curtains. What now?

We know the Port and its allies oppose the SoDo location no matter what. We know that at least one Port official wanted to support Tukwila to be "for something versus against something." We know that that Mr. Fick felt at one time that Tukwila was "very viable." We know that Mr. Merritt wants the Port "to promote alternative sites wherever they are," such as Key Arena.

But we also know that the Tukwila project lost its major investor right before applying for NHL expansion and isn't quite as viable as it was last May. We know that Key Arena might be viable in the year 2038, if a major investor steps forward.

So what is the Port doing lately to promote alternative sites? Are they actively trying to help Tukwila land another major investor? Will maritime interests devote time over the next 22 years to locate a primary investor for Key Arena? Will they take to heart the comments of former Port Commissioner Bill Bryant that SoDo can "work in a multi-use way" and simply quit promoting alternative sites?

Or will they continue to just delay the SoDo project and hope that escalating costs will convince Chris Hansen to take his toys and go home?

We have more disclosure requests pending. We'll let you know.