ARRRE YOU READY?!?! Let’s hear it for your Seattle Superso … wait, make that your Bellevue Super… never mind, try your Tukwila Supersonics!!!
A favorite topic of this space — arenas and where to build them — has been enjoying a revival in recent weeks. First came stories suggesting interest in two alternative sites for an arena to Chris Hansen’s Sodo project, in Bellevue and at the south end of Boeing Field, as well as hints that it might be NHL hockey rather than NBA basketball that would drive construction.
Then came news of a proposal that was much more than a hint or a suggestion — a hockey arena to be built in Tukwila, with an actual backer for the project and a team, and statements from the city that it would move expeditiously on permitting.
In a normal political environment, a not-so-subtle jibe like that would light a fire under a rival city’s administration to get moving on a signature project rather than lose it to some upstart suburb. In this instance, the public revelation of the Tukwila deal just happened to coincide with the release of an environmental impact statement on the Sodo project, a monthslong endeavor that has stalled anything else from happening.
But this involves Seattle, where nothing happens normally. The current mayor of Seattle took a break from telling the Port of Seattle what it can and can’t do to telling Hansen that the EIS doesn’t really matter because the proposed financing deal will have to be redone, and if the arena winds up somewhere other than Seattle, oh well.
Elements of this saga carry strong whiffs of déjà vu. Way back when the original Sonics were contemplating a new playpen, proposals ranged from Renton to several sites in Bellevue and even one near Emerald Downs. Some were serious; others were trial balloons. Eventually the Sonics picked an arena — in Oklahoma City.
With that experience in mind, the populace can be excused dismissing the issue with a shrug of “wake me when someone actually builds something.”
But sports fans, concert-goers, event organizers, economic development and government officials and taxpayers do need to be paying attention, because they have a vested interest in the outcome.
That interest goes beyond having another professional-sports franchise or two in the area, and wondering what sort of traffic you’ll have to fight to see one of their games (presuming you can afford the tickets).
The region can afford only so many arenas. The distance and traffic between them allowed KeyArena and the Tacoma Dome to co-exist in one market as uneasy competitors for many of the same events such as big-name concerts. The Dome was for a season (1994-95) the home of the Sonics, while KeyArena was being remodeled into a venue the NBA later decided was insufficiently posh for its tastes.
KeyArena subsists on a diet of basketball, in the form of the Storm of the WNBA and Seattle U, concerts and other one-off events. Its future is unclear. If a Sodo arena is built, that might make KeyArena unneeded and unwanted competition. But if a new arena is built outside Seattle, maybe the city wouldn’t be so quick to jettison it and cut itself out of a share of event revenue.
What to do with the Tacoma Dome is a discussion that’s been going on even longer. Proposals for dramatically reconfiguring it struggle with financing. For now, beyond some smaller projects such as restroom expansion, the only idea with much traction is to festoon the Dome roof’s tasteful blue-diamonds pattern with some flower-like dollop by Andy Warhol.
A similarly sized and more modern venue south of Seattle would complicate life for the Tacoma Dome. The Dome could grab dates for events when the new arena was tied up with hockey or basketball. But an arena in Tukwila would be better positioned to draw attendees from Seattle, the Eastside and South King and Pierce counties.
There’s also a port component to the arena issue that makes it of local significance. The Port of Seattle and allies in the Sodo area are dead-set against Hansen’s arena, arguing that event traffic will harm port activities, and have helpfully offered to find another site for it (just as the mayor has helpfully offered to tell the port what it can do with Terminal 5). The EIS, however, estimated the financial effect of arena traffic on trucking operations (port and nonport) will amount to about $230,000. A year. No, there aren’t zeroes missing in that.
Since the Port of Tacoma has decided to tie its fortunes to the Port of Seattle’s maritime operations, the fight over an arena there becomes ours as well (if it wasn’t already). But there is an elegant, affordable and straightforward solution — put the NHL and NBA teams in a remodeled Tacoma Dome and all the seaport stuff on the Tacoma Tideflats. Problems solved for everyone!
Bill Virgin is editor and publisher of Washington Manufacturing Alert and Pacific Northwest Rail News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.