Thiel: A few things about process, and KeyArena


by Art Thiel


Posted on June 21, 2012 at 7:58 AM

Updated Thursday, Jun 21 at 10:30 PM

Since we're early in a process of several years that it will take to build and populate a basketball/hockey arena, I'd like to offer up some naive ideas to the involved parties to streamline the process and make it a tad less unpleasant.

I say this having sat through two King County hearings Tuesday and one City Council hearing Wednesday, so I may be a little agitated and loopy. Nevertheless:

1) Opponents and proponents, please stop the polarizing rhetoric. You're starting to sound like Democrats and Republicans. Passion is one thing; ignorant belligerence is another. While I'm at it, please stop with the whiny impatience. Compared to any other stadium deal in the city's modern history, Chris Hansen's project is on a missile. Every step is important to get it right, otherwise the project comes undone down the road. I'd ask the Kingdome for an amen, but it died at 24 from human foolishness when it was a concrete zygote.

2) Make the Port of Seattle as rigorous in its presentation of supporting facts as the councils are demanding of Hansen (thank you, Brian Robinson of Save Our Sonics for the suggestion). If the port's claim of job losses of 3,000 to 4,000 is attributable to a basketball arena, we should seek the port's designation as a federal SuperFund site to clean up management so bad, it's toxic.

3) If Chris Hansen will stop claiming that San Francisco's baseball park on industrial property is analogous to the Seattle situation (it really isn't), then the councils should agree to stop nagging him to fund the entirety of the project as did Giants ownership (San Francisco is a much bigger, richer market to sell tickets, suites and sponsorships; besides, the Giants are cool).

4) The most important point in the early going: Let's put to rest the idea of KeyArena as a long-term  solution. Gawdblessher, Grandma gave us all she had. Let her rest.

KeyArena came up a lot Wednesday when the city council had a chance to quiz Hansen in public. As chancellors of the city's dwindling exchequer, the city is trying to make relevant a dwindling structure that, while it has no debt thanks to $45 million settlement from Clay Bennett, has insufficient revenues for maintenance and improvements.

It does have value to Hansen, because upon acquisition of an NBA team, he will need the Key as an interim home for up to three years while an arena is built. He said after the hearing Wednesday that he will commit at least $5 million, independent of the $290 million for the new arena, for upgrades.

It's part of one of three options Hansen has proposed, but does not insist upon, because he wants council cooperation in the determination of the Key's fate. Besides needing a temp home, Hansen wants one more thing: the Key in the future must be made noncompetitive with his arena. He doesn't want to fight with a joint in the same town for concerts and other non-sports events. That's reasonable.

For months before news broke on Hansen's plan, his crew looked at alternatives to SoDo, including the Key. It has two big drawbacks known to all who have cared: An NHL rink and seats can't fit in the building's current configuration, and it sits upon what amounts to a public park -- the only one of its kind in the NBA. A complete teardown would be required, an excavation done for parking and much bigger loading bays, all of which would be subject to the opinions of the hundreds of constituencies who use Seattle Center.

It would not get done in the lifetime of Hansen's great grandchildren. If you think the fight over SoDo is getting testy, proposing a completely new arena on Center grounds would look like fight from a "Transformers" movie.

Perhaps the most poignant moment of the hearing Wednesday was the view of Robert Nellams, the Center's director and a 16-year city employee who was asked by council to give his opinion.

"I understand why SoDo was selected," Nellams said. "It's hard for me to tell people that."

Nellams doesn't want to quit on the Key, as well as the lower Queen Anne businesses that have suffered since the Sonics' departure. But the building, which began as a temp pavilion for the 1962 World's Fair and wound up being a home for the NBA for 41 years, is at the end of its functional utility for pro sports.

A telling blow Wednesday came quietly. Asked about the desires of the two basketball teams who use the building, staff informed council that the Seattle Storm and Seattle University wanted to be in the new arena.

"The new arena?" council member Sally Clark asked.

"The new arena."

It's all unofficial, of course, but everyone in the room understood. No sports enterprise wants to be associated with yesterday. Hansen's suggestion of $5 million for a new hairdo and make-up for the old girl suddenly sounded all right.

"It's far better to be in partnership with Hansen" than to become a white elephant, Nellams said.

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