Seattle City Council Balks at Chris Hansen’s Arena Proposal

You can't tell from here, but the section of Occidental Avenue that would have been vacated for Chris Hansen's new arena is not the most scenic street in Seattle. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
You can't tell from here, but the section of Occidental Avenue that would have been vacated for Chris Hansen's new arena is not the most scenic street in Seattle. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

The Seattle City Council voted 5-4 against developer Chris Hansen’s arena proposal that would have cleared room in SoDo for a new NHL/NBA arena.

Chris Hansen’s proposal had been tweaked numerous times over the years to accommodate different people and their concerns, but in the end, the Seattle City Council voted 5-4 against his proposal, which would have vacated Occidental Avenue near Safeco Field in preparation for a new arena. The reasoning behind the “no” vote stems from concerns over Port of Seattle jobs being lost in the cluster of new development in the area and a general political cowardice by Seattle City Council members.

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Hansen’s plan called for the vacating of a section of Occidental Avenue that actually has no shipping businesses on it and is largely an area mostly known for scoring cheap smack when the Mariners aren’t in town. But concerns over the eroding shipping industry in Seattle and a general skittishness when allocating over $200 million in city and county bond loans to the new project (Hansen’s plan offered to pay the loans back with stadium revenues), torpedoed the project.

The five women members of the Seattle City Council outvoted the four men to kill Hansen’s project, effectively ending any hope of NBA basketball in Seattle for the foreseeable future. In fairness, councilwoman Lorena Gonzalez wrestled with her final decision before casting the decisive vote against the arena saying, “I am wholeheartedly in support of bringing NBA and NHL teams to the city of Seattle. I hope that we can do so without further compromising the vitality of the port and our rich maritime and industrial history of the city.”

"After a cowardly vote from the Seattle City Council, the best chance for a new NBA team in Seattle has been squashed."

The Seattle City Council heard from many involved in the shipping industry before they made their decision. While these workers and business owners voiced their valid concerns over the potential loss of their jobs, they failed to prove that a new arena would actually affect their livelihoods. Since 2011, when Hansen first proposed his plan, the longshore union and the Port of Seattle haven’t projected one job being lost because of a new arena in SoDo. In the end, the decision was purely political. The Seattle City Council voted in an attempt to please their constituents. Politicians love to root for their teams, except for when they think it costs them votes.

For twenty years, the Seattle City Council has been in the business of using tax dollars to help people in need. Yesterday, the Council’s obsession with appearing anti-big business and development tripped up an opportunity to resurrect the NBA in Seattle.

Seattle City Council president Bruce Harrell acknowledged his colleagues’ unwillingness to jeopardize shipping and maritime jobs (which are already being lost due to national and international factors, such as the use of giant container ships and the widening of the Panama Canal) in a radio interview after the vote:

There’s a strong political push to make sure that port jobs and labor jobs come to the forefront of the conversation. When people realize there’s $200 million going into the professional sports business, where athletes are millionaires and fans have discretionary money to attend, there’s a mood that that is not the priority of the city. The priority of the city are people who are losing out on income equality.

The Seattle City Council didn’t want to appear to be on the side of big-time property developers with their job-stealing, income-inequality loving ways. Councilwoman Kshama Sawant, a self-proclaimed socialist, admitted that the Port of Seattle wasn’t exactly a model organization, dredging up former US Attorney Mike McKay’s description of the port as “a cesspool of corruption.” But she felt her responsibility lay with the keeping middle class jobs in town.

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I’m no expert on the economic prospects of the Port of Seattle and the jobs it provides to the community, but it seems, based on what I’ve read, like an industry that would have survived another sports venue in SoDo. There has been little to no evidence of job losses caused by the new arena. Chris Hansen made compromises every step of the way, pitching in between $18 and $20 million of his own fortune and agreeing to add a public park and a pedestrian overpass to help alleviate traffic concerns. In the end, the plan, opposed by the Seattle Mariners and the Seattle Times in addition to Port of Seattle representatives, was shot dead by a Seattle City Council afraid of political fallout.

It’s a shame, because Hansen’s project was the best hope for the NBA in Seattle. Even though the NBA’s relocation committee is headed by none other than the Devil incarnate himself, Clay Bennett, (who likely paid a ref or two for the Thunder’s inexplicable win at San Antonio last night while feasting on the carcass of a recently murdered puppy) Hansen’s arena would have made Seattle a can’t-miss market for an NBA team. The NBA also doesn’t like the idea of non-publicly funded arenas in its cities, which is one reason why it helped Bennett and company wrench the Sonics from Seattle’s loving embrace, but that obstacle only becomes relevant after a suitable arena has been built.

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Instead, after a cowardly vote from the Seattle City Council, the best chance for a new NBA team in Seattle has been squashed. I’m never one to urge any kind of political action or leanings one way or another on Emerald City Swagger (that’s what bars are for), but this November, Seattle residents, remember to vote your conscience, vote for your interests, but also consider who killed the NBA in Seattle next time your city council representative is up for reelection. Now it appears that we’ll have to root for the Bellevue or Tukwila Sonics… in 2050.