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SoDo arena vacation on hold as Seattle council approves KeyArena resolution

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City resources are allocated to negotiating and investigating KeyArena redux, putting SoDo on ice

On Monday, the Seattle City Council passed a resolution officially defining and declaring their role and responsibilities in negotiations of a potential KeyArena redevelopment. That focus by the city has, for all intents and purposes, placed a hold on study of the second SoDo arena group request for a street vacation.

The resolution was based on a letter sent by the council to Seattle mayor Ed Murray on June 26, 2017, detailing the expectations from the city council of the executive branch in their negotiations with the Oak View Group over a memorandum of understanding pertaining to a KeyArena project.

It was in that letter that the council set the September 12th deadline for a draft MOU ahead of a busy 2018 budget process expected to begin at the end of September.

The council’s Select Committee on Civic Arenas met on Monday morning and forwarded to the full council a request to add the letter as an attachment to the resolution. The language of the resolution was made more general on the advice of the city’s legal department, and the letter was attached to offer context. Some tweaks to the language were also proposed to clarify that the resolution does not guarantee a specific outcome in the council’s decision-making over the arena project.

The changes and the full resolution unanimously passed 8-0 in the full council meeting on Monday afternoon. Councilmember Kshama Sawant was not present.

With city resources being routed to studying the KeyArena redevelopment proposal and negotiating the MOU, the Occidental Avenue street vacation request by the SoDo arena investment group is effectively on indefinite hold.

The request is a second attempt following a 5-4 decision by the council in May 2016 to deny conditional approval of a one-block strip of a relatively less-used road.

Reaching out to Beverly Barnett, manager of the street vacation application process for the Seattle Department of Transportation, Chris Daniels of KING5-TV confirmed that review of the request is currently not a priority for the city.

When SoDo investor Chris Hansen submitted the new request in February, most at the city anticipated the review to be a six month process, Daniels points out. Council president Bruce Harrell told KJR radio in the spring that they expected to get to the SoDo vacation in August, September, or October.

It’s no longer clear if the request will be addressed before the MOU between the SoDo group, the city, and the county effectively ends in early December.

A few more items of note at the Select Committee meeting:

  • During public comments, the president of the African-American Longshore Coalition, the president of the Seattle King County chapter of the NAACP, and the owner of a trucking company in SoDo each spoke in support of the SoDo arena project and of Chris Hansen’s reaching out to the community to ensure that minority-owned businesses and minority trade would be a focus of hiring for the construction project.
  • Director of the Office of Economic Development Brian Surratt informed the council that the executive staff has met with OVG for three full-day negotiation sessions on the MOU. They plan at least one more full-day meeting, and they fully expect to have the draft MOU handed to the council by September 12th.
  • Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez brought up a noteworthy question on the “deliverable” items between the meetings of the Select Committee and the expectation of what the committee should be doing between meetings going forward. Gonzalez was joined by Councilmember Mike O’Brien on concerns about the limited time with the MOU given the upcoming budget process and the staff resources that will be devoted to it. This is particularly in light of the executive branch’s desire to have the MOU passed and done before the end of the year.
  • Councilmember Tim Burgess confirmed with Surratt that nothing in the arena redevelopment process impacts the 2018 city budget. Councilmember Rob Johnson shared his thoughts that the transportation issue might have an effect on the budget.
  • Gonzalez was surprised to find that no one with direct expertise on transportation and traffic mobility planning was included in the community advisory group. Surratt and Seattle Center director Robert Nellams spoke about how the advisory group has helped the most to define the scope of transportation study needed and the expertise to bring in to aid in mobility solutions.

Full disclosure: Sonics Rising founder Brian Robinson is a member of the arena community advisory group.