SEATTLE – In near back-to-back votes Monday afternoon, the King County and Seattle councils approved the proposed NBA / NHL arena project in Seattle's SODO neighborhood. County councilmembers voted unanimously (9-0) to approve the revised deal, while the city coucil vote was 7-2.
County Executive Dow Constantine and Mayor Mike McGinn said they plan to sign the legislation on Tuesday afternoon.
Investor and hedge fund manager Chris Hansen wants to build the $490 million arena south of Safeco Field and has already snapped up $53 million in land for the project. Monday's approval by the two councils means Hansen can now begin shopping for an NBA and NHL franchise.
The deal reached with the two councils calls for up to $145 million in public financing if Hansen can get one team to fill the building. Public financing would be $200 million for two teams. The financing would be paid by arena-generating revenue and includes no new taxes.
City Council members say the deal was dead until Hansen agreed to use $40 million of the public financing for a transportation fund and up to $7 million more for KeyArena modifications. It’s likely an NBA team would have to play at KeyArena while the proposed arena is under construction.
On Monday, two locals of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union unveiled plans to file a lawsuit to block the construction of the arena in SODO, which is near the busy Port of Seattle. The unions argue that the two councils erred in endorsing the SODO location before environmental reviews were conducted.
The legislation approved by the councils on Monday requires a full environmental impact study (EIS) on the SODO location.
But ILWU officials said they believe the EIS will be a “sham” and make a “mockery” of the process.
"The law needs to apply equally to all, all who wish to make an investment to the city. Environmental review is the same, whether you're a small contractor or a hedge fund manager," said Max Vekich with ILWU Local 52 and a former state legislator. "We have to step in and advocate, for not only for ourselves, but for the public who will see money and resources wasted on a sham process. A sham process that would have to be repeated."
By essentially picking the site before an environmental review is done, the deal reverses the steps required by the State Environmental Policy Act, the unions allege. They threatened to sue to block the deal once it's signed by McGinn and King County Executive Dow Constantine.
"The cart's been thrown before the horse here," said Vekich, who serves as co-chair of Save Our SoDo Jobs. Using a football metaphor, he added: "We want to throw a red flag here and ask for instant review."
The unions pointed to a previous case in which Seattle approved plans for developing mixed-income housing at Fort Lawton, a former military site near Discovery Park, without providing for proper environmental review under state law. Neighbors in the Magnolia neighborhood sued, and an appeals court blocked the project.
Quoting an earlier decision, the appeals court wrote that the law's purpose "is to provide consideration of environmental impact factors at the earliest possible stage to allow decisions to be based on complete disclosure of environmental consequences. Even if adverse environmental effects are discovered later, the inertia generated by the initial government decisions (made without environmental impact statements) may carry the project forward regardless. When government decisions may have such snowballing effect, decision-makers need to be apprised of the environmental consequences before the project picks up momentum, not after."
But Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes argues that the agreement does not bind the city into building the arena at any particular site, and says the agreement calls for a full environmental review as demanded by state law, as well as an analysis of effects on traffic and port operations.
KING 5's Travis Pittman and the Associated Press contributed to this report.