Developer Chris Hansen’s proposed NBA and NHL arena in Seattle’s SoDo district passed a major milestone this week. But KPLU sports commentator Art Thiel says the biggest obstacle remains: the NBA.
'Intersection Of Sports And Politics'
The Sustainability and Transportation Committee of the Seattle City Council voted 4-1 this week to recommend vacating a portion of Occidental Avenue needed for the proposed arena project.
"This vote had to happen to advance the project," Thiel said. "This is significant progress for Chris Hansen."
The full council will take up the issue on May 2.
Hansen signed a five-year Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the City of Seattle and King County in 2012. The vote this week was the first time a political body as weighed in on the project since then.
"Now the [full] council will consider whether Hansen's project is worthy," Thiel said.
'Improving His Pitch'
For the past four years, Hansen has been refining his proposal in an effort to gain approval from the city.
"The improvements include an $85 million parking garage and another potentially $18 million pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks on Holgate Street," Thiel said.
"Hansen is spending a whole lot more than the original $490 million he originally budgeted for the project."
'Setback' for Opponents Of SoDo Venue
"The Port of Seattle has long been against this because they think a third sports venue in the area is going to further mess up their traffic problems and freight mobility," Thiel said.
"The Seahawks and Mariners have also been against it because they think that the third venue is going to make life terrible for the fans attending events [at their stadiums].
"This was a setback for all of them," he said.
But Thiel points out that, as part of the amendments to the original agreement that were also passed this week, they came up with a very specific proposal about how events will be scheduled.
"In the last couple of weeks, there have been - behind closed doors - a lot of meetings between the teams and Hansen to sort this out and to shape the language that he is going to have to abide by if this passes."
What Will Happen May 2?
Thiel is not sure how the full council vote will play out.
"This is politics, not sports, and I'm not going to guess political ambitions on this. There's going to be a lot of horse trading going on in the next couple of weeks," he said.
'Real Opponent: NBA'
Thiel points out that, as a part of the MOU, Hansen has to have an NBA team in hand before any shovel of dirt gets turned.
"That's going to be hard to do because the NBA has said they're not expanding in the near future and there's no apparent team vulnerable to expansion right now, as Hansen tried to do with Sacramento in 2013.
"So, the big obstacle remains: how do you get a team here before the expiration of the MOU in November 2017? That will be his challenge.
"He'll have something in hand to show the NBA but whether it's enough remains to be seen."