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MOU 2.0

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Oak View Group MOU Passes to Council

Five years ago today, on September 11, 2012, the media assembled in city hall to announce an agreement that I, and just about everybody else involved, thought would result in the return of the NBA to a new arena in Sodo. I cannot express the pride in victory I felt that day or the personal appreciation I felt for Chris Hansen who was at the time and remains a personal hero of mine.

It's hard to believe that five years later, having failed to acquire the Sacramento Kings, finalize the project permit, or place a bid for an NHL expansion franchise, this MOU is coming to an end and another appears to have taken clear control of the situation.

After months of negotiations, the Office of Economic Development (OED) will be sending a copy of their draft MOU with the Oak View Group (OVG) to City Council for review with an anticipated signature to occur on December 4, just one day after Chris Hansen's current MOU expires.

Many will remember the intense renegotiation that took place in 2012 when then-mayor Mike McGinn passed his MOU agreement off to council. During the 7 months that followed City Council did everything possible to "put their fingerprint" on the document negotiated by McGinn, who had a very contentious relationship with Council.

This process is expected to differ substantially from that one as both the OED and OVG have engaged with council and community for input at a much earlier stage. Reports of a lack of community involvement are completely and totally fabricated. Whereas Hansen's team announced a deal negotiated in secrecy and then had to work under the public spotlight to negotiate last minute concessions with a number of local stakeholders, the OVG proposal has largely been signed off on by groups such as the Seattle Storm, Seattle Center, and Uptown Alliance. They have broad support from groups like Youthcare, having negotiated a benefit agreement that will yield $20 million in support for youth homelessness and activities.

One detail of significance, originally identified by KJR's Dave Mahler via twitter, is that OED notified the NBA and NHL of their plans via scheduled phone conferences today. These calls, which have been confirmed by Sonics Rising are believed to have been positive in nature and continue a pattern of frequent and open communication between the city, OVG and the sports leagues that I believe bodes well for the leagues return to our market.

If there is apprehension about this deal, from either sports league, about KeyArena I would expect them to make it known in short order. Perhaps not via an official statement but certainly by alerting people involved in the process or members of the national media that Seattle is preparing to make an unrecoverable mistake. Indications I have are that both leagues are extremely supportive of Leiweke and receptive to his plan, but I will still be vigilant watching for any and all messages to the contrary. If Chris Hansen has support within the league, now is the time for him to bring them to the table with some type of indirect statement of support. The league could change the course of things with a simple off-the-record phone call to any number of supportive elected officials (Dow Constantine?).

In addition to the MOU itself OED will be providing council with a "statement of values" agreed upon by a coalition of stakeholders including sports fans, union labor, social justice advocates and representatives of all impacted neighborhood associations. This "statement of values" is essentially intended to act as instructions and priorities for our council members when reviewing the MOU.

As a member of committee on civic arenas, I would like to thank my fellow committee members. Having witnessed stadium and arena battles both here and in other markets I can tell you that the neighborhoods virtually always oppose the construction of large stadiums due to concerns on traffic, housing, and impact. I anticipated intense opposition from residents of Uptown (formerly referred to as "Lower Queen Anne") but instead have been amazed by the strong support put forward by the Uptown, Belltown, and South Lake Union Neighborhoods. They have a strong shared vision for a dynamic neighborhood.

My contribution to this value statement was the insertion of language directly targeting the concerns of Sonics Rising readers. The document states:

"It will be suitable, both in terms of physical design and business model, to attract a National Hockey League franchise and facilitate the return of the Seattle Supersonics. The project will affirm the unique social role that professional and amateur sports, as well as music and the arts, play to inspire youth and bring together diverse communities across our region.

I appreciate my committee peers and Brian Surratt of OED being amenable to adding specific instructions that the council vet both the physical design and business model of the facility to ensure that they are suitable for the NBA and NHL. At today's committee meeting, I informed both Surratt and the Oak View Group representatives of my intentions to follow up on these instructions and request specific details about the financing model in order to re-assure nervous fans. In addition, it is my intention to make myself available to any representative of the Sodo group if they would like to provide specific and quantifiable examples of how their proposal provides a financial model that is more likely to lure the league to their site. The economic model of the building is a provable formula and I encourage everybody to step up and show the fans how they intend to make this happen.

Tomorrow will be a big day with MOU details expected to be released to the public in the early morning and I assume reviewed in minute detail in the days and weeks to follow. I will provide a hint to say that many concerns that have been brought up on this board are likely to be addressed in the actual document. Like the last one, this is a good deal for the taxpayers.