In one semifinal, the anti-methanol forces overcame a slow start to defeat the pro-plant alliance. In the other semifinal, the anti-Seattle-arena crowd scored something of an upset as it defeated Chris Hansen and Sonics fans.
That sets up an intriguing matchup in the finals of the Contentious Regional Issue Playoffs, 2016 edition. And what better place to hold this showdown than in the Tacoma Dome, the subject of today’s ruminations on the effects and implications of the Seattle City Council’s vote to reject the arena project.
▪ “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings. … Never say never. … So you’re saying there’s still a chance.” Roll out all the clichés, aphorisms and movie quotes you can dredge up to suggest that Hansen’s arena project is still alive, at least in the Seattle neighborhood of Sodo. Maybe Hansen can restructure the deal to the council’s liking.
But with no street vacation, no franchise in hand (either basketball or hockey) and no immediate prospects for landing one, and with a mayor whose enthusiasm for the project is at best tepid and a council tipped against the idea, the betting line is running strongly against seeing an arena in Sodo — ever.
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The big winners? That would be venues that would compete with a new venue, specifically the Tacoma Dome and smaller pocket arenas such as Kent’s ShoWare Center.
Having yet another arena competing for events such as concerts makes the finances for those buildings and their owners (city government) more challenging. Even if they’re of different sizes, there’s still some crossover. The Harlem Globetrotters, for example, can play at the T-Dome, ShoWare Center or KeyArena — and have.
Even in sports there’s potential for overlap and competition. ShoWare is reaping the benefit of the Seattle Thunderbirds’ deep run in the Western Hockey League playoffs; the team the T-birds most recently beat, the Kelowna Rockets, was once the Tacoma Rockets, which played at the T-Dome. The revived Tacoma Stars indoor soccer team, years ago a tenant of the Tacoma Dome, now plays at ShoWare.
Neither of those venues competes at the major league sports level, nor should they. The Tacoma Dome hosted the Sonics in 1994-’95 while KeyArena was being rebuilt, and it still gets mentions, along with every empty lot of reasonable size in the greater Puget Sound region, as a possible home for the Sonics’ return.
Not going to happen. Rebuilding the T-Dome to the NBA’s ever more expensive and fickle tastes, as Seattle learned with KeyArena, would be an expensive and risky undertaking, never mind mustering public will to support it.
But the Tacoma Dome doesn’t have to build a luxury sports palace to be successful in competing for concerts, shows, meetings, conventions and sports events. Some internal improvements will help, and dome management hopes to land some money in the next biennial city budget for capital projects including seating.
External factors will help too, such as completion of the seemingly perpetual rebuilding of Interstate 5 through town, and the continuing revival of downtown Tacoma as a place to live, work and play.
The biggest help, though, is time to figure out, finance and complete those improvements, and that’s what Seattle City Council gave the Tacoma Dome. Maybe there will eventually be an arena in Bellevue or Tukwila or (fill in name of city here), but those projects aren’t even to the paper stage yet; Hansen’s had at least made it that far, with actual property as well (except for that pesky street).
Then again, maybe Hansen can be talked into buying a large, older but still quite serviceable building with some great views of the water and nearby port. And speaking of which …
▪ One aspect of the fight over the Sodo arena should resonate with Tacomans, having been through it themselves quite recently: the future and use of industrial lands.
Seattle politicians’ interest in industrial and maritime interests in the city is indifferent at best. Even the Port of Seattle has run hot and cold in its dedication to the maritime business, having recently offloaded much of the management to the Port of Tacoma, oops, sorry, Northwest Seaport Alliance.
The prospect of a Sodo arena might be gone, but the pressures of competing uses aren’t. Hansen could decide to convert his Sodo real estate to a mirror image of South Lake Union, complete with tech-firm-intensive office towers (finding a few Amazons to fill them might prove easier than finding an NBA team to buy).
Tacoma isn’t to that point, yet, and the port’s physical configuration is still much more coherent and efficient, but you can see suggestions and indicators of clashes and encroachment already. We’ve had one confrontation about how proposed uses of port property clash with residents’ expectations and sentiments. More are inevitable.
Bill Virgin is editor and publisher of Washington Manufacturing Alert and Pacific Northwest Rail News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.