Why The Arena Decision May Slide To 2018

The KeyArena RFP calls for proposals by mid April, with a city decision by the end of June.  Concurrently, the MOU with Chris Hansen’s SoDo project expires at the end of November.  Though with Hansen offering to essentially scrap the MOU by privately funding the arena, that date isn’t as significant.  However, the city says the new proposal triggers a new review, estimated to be completed in late summer or early fall.  This despite the only major change being the financing.

With a mayoral election this November, along with two city council seats, one held by retiring pro SoDo Burgess and the other by anti SoDo Gonzalez, it’s quite possible that any second look at the SoDo proposal gets pushed to next year.  That could even be the fate of the winning RFP bid, favored to be current KeyArena operator AEG.  Because while a decision by early summer may be preferred, action on that bid may be delayed as the city “process” grinds on, taking every and all possible KeyArena constituents into account.  That’s why some have estimated the winning bid may not see completion of the project until 5-7 years out.  Entertainment and sports facilities understandably don’t rank high on elected officials’ agendas, though there is something to be said for acting within a reasonable time frame on private offers that other cities would elevate immediately.

And while SoDo naysayers such as the Seattle Times believe this whole process is rushed, with no prospective NBA or NHL teams on the horizon, those with an understanding of the situation know that such claims are ridiculous.  Right now, NHL clubs in Brooklyn, Raleigh and Phoenix are actively looking for arena or ownership solutions in their home markets, for now.  Just over the past few years, NBA or NHL teams experienced sudden ownership turmoil that led to the sale of teams in Sacramento, Los Angeles and Atlanta (to Winnipeg).  Stuff happens.  It’s imperative for a region that wishes to host teams to be prepared for such situations, to say nothing of the cleaner expansion possibilities.

But Seattle, under current elected officials, is not such a city.  That’s why the process has dragged along.  And it’s why the likely winning bid to renovate KeyArena will be focused around turning the old, temporary, 1962World’s Fair building into a midsized concert venue.  If the NBA or NHL and prospective owners don’t like that, well, that’s not the city’s problem.

So we wait, and wait and wait.  After having over 10 years to consider KeyArena’s future, the city is forced to react only when a legitimate proposal emerges in SoDo.  Given the city’s intent on slowing or stopping the SoDo plans, barring a miracle, sports fans are left hoping a serious arena proposal emerges outside the city limits.  That would be a miracle in itself, likely on par with city politicos giving Hansen’s plan the green light any time soon.

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