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City council approves Seattle Center Arena MOU with Oak View Group

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Near-unanimous approval to officially define city’s relationship with OVG on new arena

OVG KeyArena renovations

On Monday afternoon, eight members of the Seattle City Council voted 7-1 to approve a memorandum of understanding between the city and the Oak View Group to explore and build a new arena at Seattle Center.

OVG has proposed a $600 million redevelopment of the former KeyArena location. The project would preserve the iconic roof, awaiting final approval on landmark designation, and three of the four outer walls of the structure. The interior of the building will be completely demolished to dig down 15 feet, expand the footprint, and build a new structure. A new entry atrium would be built at the south end of the arena.

The near-unanimous vote -- councilmember Mike O’Brien was generally in favor of the MOU but procedurally voted “No” due to a specific clause in the agreement — sends the document to the desk of new mayor Jenny Durkan. Durkan is expected to sign the ordinance on Wednesday, per Chris Daniels of KING5-TV.

Mayor Durkan statement on Seattle Center Arena MOU passage

The MOU establishes the relationship between the City of Seattle and OVG, as well as identifies each party’s responsibilities in moving towards a final transaction. The approval vote was largely expected following an extensive but altogether positive negotiation after OVG was selected the winning bid for the city’s request for proposal earlier this summer.

Tim Leiweke, CEO of OVG, released the follow statement regarding the passage:

Tim Leiweke/OVG statement on Seattle Center Arena MOU passage

The majority of public comments on the MOU on Monday were positive and in support. All eight of the attending councilmembers essentially supported passage. Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez had an excused absence due to travel. O’Brien’s objection and subsequent “no” vote revolved specifically around the language of the exclusivity term, which would prevent the city from financially contributing to another arena project within the city if that project was larger than 15,000 seats.

The clause is thought to pertain to the competing arena proposal for the SoDo neighborhood. The SoDo investment group had requested a waiver of all admissions taxes, which would not be possible under the terms of the MOU and later rolled into the anticipated Seattle Center lease agreement.

There has been debate over whether the street vacation requested by the SoDo group, necessary for construction, would count as a benefit that would fall under the terms of the clause. The common-sense response has been “no.” A clarification from the city is expected soon.

In response to council approval of the MOU, the SoDo investment group led by Chris Hansen sent the following letter to the council to ask them to continue to consider the street vacation request and their project.

SoDo investment group letter to city council on Seattle Center Arena MOU passage

We’ll get more into next steps for the Seattle Center Arena process in the next few days. For now, another big hurdle in the effort to build a new arena, attract the NHL, and return the SuperSonics to the NBA has been cleared.