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'Not The End Of The Road': What's Next For Seattle Arena Proposal?

Elaine Thompson
AP Photo
A pedestrian walks across Occidental Ave. South and in view of Safeco Field behind, Monday, May 2, 2016, in Seattle.

Sonics fans and supporters of a proposed arena in Seattle are trying to regroup after a big setback this week. The City Council voted 5-4 not to vacate a street needed for the project.

KPLU sports commentator Art Thiel talks about what happened and what might be next.'Hard To Kill'

"Anytime you get a project that's been this long in building and with this many people this interested and that much money involved and with the potential upside of the development, it's hard to kill it," Thiel said.

Thiel noted that would-be developer Chris Hansen said this weekthe project is not dead yet.

"You might have to put a mirror under its nose to get a little fog on it to make sure it's alive but I think Hansen still wants to see what options remain."

'Ridiculous' Emails

Thiel said the issue got more complicated when the five female council members who voted no to vacating Occidental Avenue South received hate-filled emails from angry basketball fans, targeting their gender.

Thiel said the emails were "ridiculous" and "all about misogyny." Hansen and Mayor Ed Murray also spoke out against them.

"It's one thing for a politician to be criticized for a decision - and harsh criticism because of the missed opportunity with the vote. I understand that. But gender had nothing to do with this decision.

"It was a tough call; it nearly went the other way. So, the cranks who are doing this are setting back the project in addition to embarrassing themselves and Seattle," Thiel said.

No May Not Necessarily Mean No

Thiel noted one scenario in which the project could be salvaged.

"It may not pencil out, but it's possible to consider that if Chris reduces the ask by privately financing the $125 million that he would have sought from the city had construction begun, it's a way to get the city off the hook for the money.

"The street vacation could be justified on the council's behalf because there's no backside risk to it because Hansen would pay full real estate value for the street that would be vacated. And then it would be a negotiation between Hansen and the Port [of Seattle]."

"The thing about Hansen's project is that he's layered it with all kinds of public amenities. It's almost embarrassing how much he's done for it.

"That's why the opportunity that is passing is so sad, really, for the community," Thiel continued.

"I understand why people think it's welfare for billionaires. I don't see it that way because the ask is for a loan that would be paid back out of operating revenues over 30 years and the city would own the building," he said.

Vote About Two Hypothetical Scenarios

Thiel said the council had to consider two hypothetical scenarios.

"On the Port side, they said there were jobs that would be lost. But they never proved with numbers how that was going to work because the Port has many other larger, global issues to deal with that affect its economic future, like the expansion of the Panama Canal and the giant container ships that are going to dominate shipping," he said.

In Thiel's opinion:"one small street on the Port's doorstep when you've already got two big arenas in SoDo is really not the threat that they made it out to be."

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 19 did send a letter to the city and county councils, outlining their concerns. The group also tried unsuccessfully to block the project in court.

"On the Hansen side, his hypothetical was he didn't have a team. And I think the council members could not get around the idea that it wasn't guaranteed when, in fact, there is no guarantee.

"But neither side had the proof that something was going to happen the way they said it would," Thiel said.

Other Options?

"There's always been talk over the years about Bellevue as a potential site for an arena," Thiel noted. "There's also talk by a Connecticut investment banker, Ray Bartoszek, who has options on property in Tukwila.

"But none of them really had a chance to develop because Hansen basically had first dibs on this because he had a Memorandum of Understanding. That will last until November 2017.

"If he hasn't gotten it done then, it expires. But Mayor Murray would be up for re-election then, so would council members, and the whole thing could be turned over in a completely different direction.

"So we have no idea what's going to happen - even after Monday's decision."


You can find Art Thiel's work at Sportspress Northwest and

Kirsten Kendrick hosts Morning Edition on KNKX and the sports interview series "Going Deep," talking with folks tied to sports in our region about what drives them — as professionals and people.
Art Thiel is a co-founder and writer for the rising sports website Sportspress Northwest. In 2003 Thiel wrote the definitive book about the Seattle Mariners, “Out of Left Field,” which became a regional bestseller. In 2009, along with Steve Rudman and KJR 950 afternoon host Mike Gastineau, Thiel authored “The Great Book of Seattle Sports Lists,” a cross between and Mad Magazine that has become mandatory reading for any sports fan who has an indoor bathroom.