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Seattle Arena Agreement Wins Over Some Critics, But Not All

Deborah Wang
09/12/2012

Basketball fans are cheering a proposed agreement unveiled Tuesday between the Seattle City Council and backers of a new sports arena in the city's Sodo neighborhood.

City Council members have been negotiating with lead investor Chris Hansen to get more financial guarantees and more money to pay for transportation improvements in Sodo.

The new agreement has won over many of the arena's critics, but not all.



TRANSCRIPT

Chris Van Dyk is nicknamed "Mr. No." Back in 2001, he started a group called Citizens for More Important Things. Its sole purpose was to fight excessive public financing of sports stadiums.

He's opposed baseball and football stadiums, as well as a previous attempt to build a basketball arena. Earlier this year, he testified against the proposed NBA arena in Sodo.

But now, he says, he's had a change of heart.

Van Dyk: "This is really one where the City Council has really done a job on making sure the concerns are addressed."

Van Dyk says the City Council has added strong language to protect taxpayers. For example, bond payments will be personally guaranteed by arena investor Chris Hansen.

The city will own the arena, but it can force Hansen to buy it back at the end of 30 years. The agreement also requires investors to put more money into a reserve fund in case of future financial troubles.

Van Dyk says he believes the new agreement meets the spirit of Initiative 91. That's a voter approved measure that he co–wrote. It requires the city to get a fair return on any investment in a sports facility, and it allows voters to sue if that doesn't happen.

Van Dyk: "There's still always a possibility, anybody who thinks this is a bad deal and that it doesn't meet the terms of I–91 could go out and file a lawsuit that it doesn't meet the terms of I–91. But for myself and many others, I think we will work on more important things."

And van Dyk is not alone. Another prominent critic of the initial deal was state Representative Judy Clibborn. Clibborn and other state leaders had publicly opposed putting the arena in Sodo. They were worried that increased traffic would harm operations at the nearby Port of Seattle.

But Clibborn appeared with City Council members at the press conference announcing the new agreement. She says she's now on board.

Clibborn: "We are embarking on something together that I value and think will be very important to the region and the state."

In the new agreement, the city has agreed to form what's called the Port Overlay District. That's to protect Sodo's industrial lands from gentrification. Clibborn says that was key to winning her support.

Arena investors have also agreed to put $40 million into a fund to pay for transportation improvements in Sodo. Its first priority will be to help trucks get in and out of the port.

Jordan Royer has been a critic of the Sodo site. He works for the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association. Royer says the $40 million is a good first step. But he says that will pay for just a small portion of all the road work that needs to be done there.

Royer: "When you conduct this process, if it is thorough, looking at all the mitigation that needs to be done and all the needs that are down there, it's going to be a hefty chunk of change."

Wang: "Who's going to pay for those improvements?"

Royer: "That's the other big question."

And Royer says he doesn't understand why the agreement is being pushed through the council so fast.

A council committee is scheduled to vote on the plan Thursday, with final approval coming in the next week or two. One critic who didn't want to be quoted says the agreement is being "super fast–tracked" and that the public doesn't have enough time to review it.

A majority of six city council members have said they will support the plan. The other three councilmembers — Richard Conlin, Tom Rasmussen and Nick Licata — either weren't available or declined to be interviewed for this story.

I'm Deborah Wang KUOW News.

© Copyright 2012, KUOW

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