If you have an arena plan for the Seattle area, it is time to step forward.
In a week since a crushing, and frankly unforeseen, setback for the Seattle Arena project in SoDo, one thing has become clear: we, the fans, need leadership and guidance. We need hope.
There is still a deep, significant wound in this city as a result of the loss of the SuperSonics. It is a wound reopened with an audible gasp as the city failed to act last week on what was widely perceived to be one of the best and most favorable opportunities for a sports & entertainment facility in the history of modern sports leagues.
Many people lose sight of the cultural value of sports, and there have been more than a few articles over the last days either examining or praising Seattle's "bold" step in turning away from offering the public coffers for such a venture. (Even though this is a complete misunderstanding of both the SoDo arena financial framework and it's adherence to I-91, despite claims otherwise.) Public monies are better spent on the arts for culture these articles argue. Yet, for as wonderful and reflective as the arts can be for a city, and for us as a people, there is still no greater unifier for the widest group than sports.
As one of the fastest growing and wealthiest cities in the nation, having a modern entertainment facility that supports both sports and popular music is seen as vital and necessary. City leadership has all but admitted that KeyArena no longer cuts it, so this debate truly is about finding a replacement not whether one is needed. Let's also not forget that Seattle couldn't apply for this year's Democratic National Convention because KeyArena was so lacking for such an event.
It is time for those who have been kicking around the arena tires to step forward. Show us your homework. Other projects and prospective owners, who were worried about a perception of undermining Chris Hansen and his team, can and should recognize the opportunity to come forward free from such concerns. The fans are hungry, desperate for hope, and now is the time to seize that effort.
It is time for Ray Bartoszek and his investment group to offer a progress report on their Northwest Arena project in Tukwila. Last we'd heard, overdue payments to the city for the environmental review had been paid, but the project has yet to produce even a Draft Environmental Impact Statement. Rumors continue to swirl about a lack of capital to make the project a reality. The Port of Seattle and even Seattle councilmembers were willing to pay attention and throw support that way, so where do things stand and how can fans get behind it?
There have been rumors for years of ownership groups coming together and land owners ready to make deals for a Bellevue arena. Whenever there have been setbacks in the Seattle project, rumblings churn about a Bellevue project announcing itself within weeks but instead these people choose to remain silent. If the interests are that organized, and if they have something substantive, it's time to share with the class. Continued silence suggests these groups are either not committed enough to get an arena done or are simply not far enough down the road to be taken seriously.
This is a call to action for the Seattle City Council and to the Port of Seattle, who have made it abundantly clear that they want significant study of KeyArena done to see what the city could do with the site. The SoDo MOU might prevent speaking with a private investor about a project for the time being, but the city owns the property and building. If you are going to keep talking about the study, then just do it. Find out what the majority of us already know about the lack of feasibility of such a prospect, but at least rule it out once and for all for yourselves.
And Port, don't think you're off the hook. You made the offer to help fund studies of the Key to garner a vote in your favor. I'm holding you to it.
This is a call to Chris Hansen and the Seattle Arena investment group. We've been accused by certain quarters in this city of being shills for the SoDo project, duped into offering propaganda and a myopic approach to bringing the NBA and NHL to Seattle. The reality is that this project is still the most realistic and tangible path to meeting those goals. It's the only project with demonstrable money, time, and effort put into it, so yes, it wasn't hard for fans to get behind it.
But we need more leadership. We need more public presence.
We can't be anything but eternally grateful to be this far into the process and the hard work by Chris Hansen's ownership group is beyond appreciated, but its meaning gets lost in the shuffle if there is no one here championing how necessary this is. The fans want someone to rally their passion around, but more important, the people who aren't the rabid fandom need to be informed about what this project means and the benefit it brings to our community and our culture. This group needs to be as ubiquitous as the "12."
Visibility and leadership are key now. It's time for these efforts to quit trying to accomplish things outside of public view. "We need to challenge these potential owners to be more visible and aggressively engaged with the public," our own Brian Robinson states. "None of them are going to get across the finish line without showing our elected officials what Sonics fans look like and introducing that electorate to Seattle."
And honestly, there should be leadership from local government here. This never should've been the Port vs Sports with the council as King Solomon. This is an opportunity to have been brokered by city officials in conjunction with the arena group and the Port all the way through. Even if a side refuses to come to the table, leadership is about bringing people together, no matter how far apart on an issue they can possibly be.
That's not to discount the work of councilmembers like Tim Burgess, Mike O'Brien, and Sally Clark who worked to craft the MOU legislation, as well as those who led efforts to make sure that maritime interests were being considered and protected. And this is a different council than the one that approved the MOU back in 2012, so better engagement by the arena group could've addressed a lot of the questions that appeared to still seem unanswered to councilmembers during their vote last week. It's time, though, for someone on the public end to take ownership.
Make no mistake, without an arena, Seattle will not get a team from either the NBA or the NHL. To borrow the overused analogy, the arena is the horse not the cart. It drives this whole thing.
So, if you've got an arena plan, go public. Bring it before us. The fans need something to sink our impassioned teeth into, something real to keep focus. The leagues need something they can witness real movement on in Seattle. The local governments need genuine projects to consider. Who will actually step up?