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Kris Brannon (in yellow), aka The Sonics Guy, and basketball fans pack the King County Council chambers in anticipation of the arena vote. (KUOW Photo/Deborah Wang)

Kris Brannon (in yellow), aka The Sonics Guy, and basketball fans pack the King County Council chambers in anticipation of the arena vote. (KUOW Photo/Deborah Wang)


King County Council Moves Seattle Arena Plan Forward

Deborah Wang

An ambitious proposal to build a sports arena in Seattle's Sodo neighborhood has cleared its first hurdle. The King County Council voted yesterday 6 to 3 in favor of moving forward on the plan.

Now, the proposal goes to the Seattle City Council. But a majority of members say they are not ready to approve it.


The vote came at the end of a marathon 4 1/2–hour meeting. But green and yellow clad Sonics fans were still in attendance when Chairman Larry Gossett announced the results.

Gossett: "Having received the required vote, proposed ordinance 2012–02–02 is passed!"

The council approved a memorandum of understanding that had been liberally amended. Among other things, the council added new language giving the county greater financial protections. It asked for a study on the economic impact of the arena. It added language saying that if the team ever moves, the name and history of the Sonics stays with Seattle. And it required the owners to set aside hundreds of affordable tickets for each game.

In the end, the changes were enough to win six votes, including that of Julia Patterson. As a state legislator, she says she voted twice against funding sports stadiums in Seattle.

Patterson: "So, Mr. Chair, I'm looking forward, I've been elected for close to 25 years, I'm looking forward to voting for the first sports arena today."

But three council members voted against the deal. They are mostly concerned that the arena would bring too much traffic to the area and hurt the Port of Seattle and maritime and industrial businesses. Here's Pete von Reichbauer.

Von Reichbauer: "I know I will be criticized by many here, and I accept that. That's part of the price of being in politics. The easy vote would say, hey, we've amended it, we've done all this, let's move it forward. It may be easy but it would be wrong."

After the vote, arena investor Chris Hansen issued a statement personally thanking the County Council. Hansen wants county and the city of Seattle to float up to $200 million in bonds to help pay for the arena's construction.

Yesterday, a majority of members on the City Council sent a letter to Hansen saying they are not ready to approve the plan. Their letter details a number of concerns. Chief among them, they want the city to get a share of the taxes the arena will generate. Here's Councilmember Tim Burgess.

Burgess: "You know, when most development happens in this city — new construction, new companies coming here — there is a pie of tax revenue that is created. And we are asking for a slice of that pie for public benefit in protecting freight mobility and transportation."

Right now, all of the taxes go to the arena's owners. They will be used to pay back the city and county bonds.

The City Council also wants more information about the investors' business plan and more financial protections for the city.

But City Council President Sally Clark says none of these things is a deal breaker. She says the council is currently in negotiations with Hansen and could have all the issues sorted out in a week's time.

I'm Deborah Wang, KUOW News.

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