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City commission recommends SoDo arena street vacation (again)

Seattle Arena project clears design process once more ahead of next week’s KeyArena RFP deadline

Occidental is already vacant.

It took one meeting with a city advisory agency this time for the Seattle Arena project in SoDo to accomplish what ten meetings over 3 years took to achieve last time: approval for the project to recommend a vacation of part of Occidental Avenue South.

On Thursday, the eight-member Seattle Design Commission voted 7-1 to approve the urban design merit of the project, KING 5 reports. In a bit of surprise timing, the advisory also voted unanimously to approve the revised public benefits package submitted in this second attempt at the necessary street vacation.

To be fair, little to none of the design of the arena had changed since garnering unanimous approval for the urban merit during the first vacation application process back in May 2015.

Urban merit determines the impact of a project on the streets, alleys, bikeways, and walkways around a proposed project site. It also looks at how additive a project is to the look, feel, and function of the area.

The biggest change in this newest version of the vacation application was to the public benefits package.

The commission — which advises the city and mayor on projects on city land, in the city right-of-way, or using city funds — determines if the compensation for the city giving up the street right-of-way is worth it.

In October, the Seattle Arena group submitted a letter to the city offering to privately fund the project in full. The original (and still existing) 2012 Memorandum of Understanding between the city, King County, and the private group has a negotiated financial framework which would have seen the city and county contributing up to $200 million in bond-funded financing to the project.

The package still includes road improvements around the site, a pedestrian and bike bridge across the train tracks along S. Holgate Street, a new parking garage, and a public plaza, amongst other things. The revised package adds monetary contributions to improve freight mobility in SoDo, and also earmarks the money the group will pay the city for Occidental to use toward the Lander Street overpass project.

That project and its proposed “dead end”-ing of Occidental at Lander were cited by members of the commission in their reasoning to approve the new public benefits. A representative of the Port of Seattle was on hand to reiterate their opposition to the arena project, per the KING 5 report, insisting again that Occidental is a vital “pressure relief valve” for traffic. It’s a view the commission feels the Port has so far failed to demonstrate.

The commission also unanimously approved the previous public benefits package back in September 2015. As the two phases are usually handled in separate meetings, it was surprising to hear they voted on both phases at this same meeting. Only the urban design merit phase was announced in their meeting agenda.

With the commission approvals, the analysis of the project now goes to the Seattle Department of Transportation. They will offer their own review, report, and recommendation to the city council’s Select Committee on Civic Arenas. There is no timeline on when to expect that recommendation.

This approval comes ahead of next Wednesday’s deadline for the Request for Proposals for the competing potential KeyArena renovation and redevelopment project. The council’s select committee will next meet on Monday, April 17th to first discuss those proposals.

Related to the KeyArena redevelopment, KING 5 notes that Seattle Center formally filed requests earlier this week to nominate seven buildings in the proposed project site for historic preservation, including the arena. Renovation of KeyArena is anticipated to be impacted by an award of historic landmark status for the building and its distinctive roof. A meeting on preservation is expected this summer.