Op-Ed: Why give away the street If we don’t have a team?

By Lisa Herbold and Sally Bashaw
Seattle City Councilmenbers

We love our local sports teams. Consider the fun we’ve had of late with the Seahawks, the Storm, the Sounders, the Mariners, the Huskies, the Redhawks and more. What’s missing? The beloved Seattle SuperSonics.

On May 2, the City Council will be voting to consider a petition to vacate a portion of Occidental Avenue South, a public right-of-way in SODO. This would allow Mr. Hansen’s proposed arena to move toward a permitting and design phase. But the street vacation is premature. He has no NBA team.

We definitely want our SuperSonics to return, but Council decisions must not be based on wishful thinking. Just last week, NBA Commissioner Silver stated that even if Seattle approved the street vacation, having a shovel-ready arena is “not a factor” in expansion considerations. None of the 30 owners wants to sell, and collectively they don’t want to expand. We oppose this street vacation for three primary reasons. First, the street vacation petition would add to congestion, forcing buses, cars, and freight to compete for street space in SODO.

Second, we must do everything reasonable to strengthen our Port and associated maritime jobs, not make them less competitive. Third, we are stranding Key Arena at a time when we are breathing new energy into the Seattle Center.

Congestion. If you’ve driven a car, a bus, or a truck in SODO you know traffic problems are already real; on any given game-day, congestion is bad. Add a Monday night football game or a Saturday when the Mariners and Sounders are both playing and traffic is at a stand-still Downtown. Imagine another 200 events at a new arena without directly addressing congestion and we have a serious problem on our hands. This impacts not only downtown commuters, but also small business. One restaurant owner in West Seattle wrote to the Council that 14 unique locations in SODO provide goods and services to his business.

Trade and Jobs. We have a growing economy connected to trade. SODO supports tens of thousands of family wage jobs already with an infrastructure that has taken 100 years and billions of dollars to build. We need our Port. We applaud the growing relationship with Tacoma. We must get goods in and out of our Port fast to compete with other ports in California and Canada.

Fifty legislators agree with us. In a recent letter to Seattle City Councilmembers, Rep. Judy Clibborn who chairs the House of Representative’s Transportation Committee and Sen. Curtis King who chairs our Senate’s Transportation Committee and forty eight of their elected colleagues wrote urging us to oppose the street vacation. Like us, they do not want to jeopardize the jobs and health of the maritime, manufacturing, and industrial sectors in our Duwamish Manufacturing/Industrial Center.

Key Arena. The Key Arena at Seattle Center, property owned by the City, deserves additional consideration. If the Council votes to approve this street vacation we will very likely face a request next year to extend the Memorandum of Agreement with Arena Co. when it expires in November 2017, further delaying consideration of the Key and potentially facing a renegotiation of the terms of the MOU, including the public financing. We must seriously consider what could be done at Seattle Center. The recent AECOM study indicated that a state of the art reconfiguration could accommodate both the NBA and the NHL at the Key Arena. NBA Commissioner Silver recently said “nothing is a closed deal,” putting the Key Arena squarely back on the table. It makes absolutely no sense to spend our public money for a competing entertainment complex south of Downtown and stranding the Key.

We are putting a lot at risk for an NBA team that doesn’t even exist. We urge other councilmembers to join us in voting no on this street vacation.

Councilmembers Lisa Herbold & Sally Bagshaw

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