Councilmember Tim Burgess, the odds-on favorite to be selected interim Seattle mayor by his fellow councilmembers next week, succinctly dismissed council consideration of the SoDo arena project at this time.
Speaking with the Seattle Channel’s Brian Callanan on this week’s City Inside/Out: Council Edition, Burgess was asked if investor Chris Hansen’s Seattle Arena project would be considered alongside the KeyArena redevelopment project currently eyed with the Los Angeles-based Oak View Group. Burgess didn’t mince words.
Is an arena comparison, I guess, going to be part of this process?
We already gave Chris Hansen a fair shake. We entered into an agreement with him. We negotiated that agreement with him several years ago, and it had a list of prerequisites. One of them being you need to get an NBA team awarded to Seattle before this project can advance. That hasn’t happened, so we’re looking at KeyArena now. I think it does become important, however, as we analyze the KeyArena deal to remind ourselves of what we did with SoDo. And there will be some comparison, obviously, as we’re thinking and weighing the strengths or weaknesses of the KeyArena proposal. But in terms of doing them at the same time, I agree with Councilmember González that that’s not appropriate at this time.
Fellow councilmember Lorena González, also on the program, earlier made the point that the council has nothing to consider on the SoDo arena at this time because they await a recommendation on a requested street vacation from the Seattle Department of Transportation. Last month, SDOT announced that review of the vacation request had been indefinitely halted as city resources were directed towards completing a draft Memorandum of Understanding between the city and OVG. The draft MOU was submitted to the city council this past Tuesday.
Burgess’ comments are particularly interesting because he has long been one of the biggest supporters of the SoDo project on the council. He was directly involved in the negotiations of the 2012 MOU with Hansen and his team, alongside councilmember Mike O’Brien and former council president Sally Clark. That MOU expires on December 3rd of this year.
The street vacation request currently being reviewed is the second request by Hansen’s group. A first request was denied in a 5-4 vote by the city council in May 2016.
Since that vote, the SoDo group — Hansen, retail magnates Erik and Pete Nordstrom, former NBA player and executive Wally Walker, and Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson — offered to tear up the existing MOU and present a fully privately financed arena project. The group had previously sought a public-private partnership with up to $200 million in bond-backed public financing from the city and King County.
For all intents and purposes, the city had fulfilled its responsibilities and duties as laid out in the SoDo MOU by holding the vote on the street vacation. The exclusive relationship established by the MOU still remains.
Two weeks ago, the SoDo group attempted to sweeten its deal by revealing its own KeyArena redevelopment proposal: transforming the venue into a 6200-seat concert hall, a 3000-seat covered outdoor amphitheater, and a 500-seat intimate theater. The proposal was quickly dismissed by the city’s executive branch, which had been laboring away on negotiations for the OVG MOU.
The council had yet to comment on Hansen’s KeyArena concept. An online petition from Seattle sports fans quickly amassed over 15,000 signatures in an effort to convince the council to review the proposal.
Burgess and González made clear that that is not going to happen at this time. Procedurally, they cannot review something that has not been put before them. It sounds like, philosophically and politically, they are ready to move on.