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The 'Big League City' argument for a new arena is bush league

There's only one good reason to consider a new NBA basketball-NHL hockey arena in Seattle. It's the passion, stupid.
Fans showed up at a rally to save the Sonics before they departed for Oklahoma City. Longtime star Gary Payton spoke.

Fans showed up at a rally to save the Sonics before they departed for Oklahoma City. Longtime star Gary Payton spoke. S x 2/Flickr

Big league city? Seattle always seems to feel it needs something else to have arrived as a major city.

Big league city? Seattle always seems to feel it needs something else to have arrived as a major city. Devon Persing/Flickr

The worst argument for bringing an NBA franchise back to Seattle is that it will make Seattle a big-league city once again. I haven't checked The Seattle Times' historical database on this, but my hunch is that argument has been made hundreds of times over the years: the original Sonics, the Pilots, the Seahawks, the Sounders, the Storm, the Mariners, the Lingerie League... .

Times sports columnist Jerry Brewer uses that rationale this week in writing about the city and county's new basketball/hockey arena financing plan. "It is a chance to transform Seattle from a city with major-league teams to a true major-league city," he writes. He goes on: "Do you want to continue to be the little sports city that couldn't?"

We complain about public subsidies for sports, even attempt to outlaw them, but they keep coming back. That's because our "big league" ambitions never die, nor our insecurity. Seattle is a city that still wants to grow up: high-rises and hoop dreams. Once we were told we'd be big-time if we just had basketball, baseball, and football. Now we have to have everything. The bar is always set just above whatever level of accomplishment we've achieved, like a mirage of big-leaguenss.

Sometimes I yearn for the days when one of Seattle's biggest sports stars was a chess player. And the public didn't have to fund the Last Exit on Brooklyn to spawn Yasser Seirawan.

Sports does not make a world-class city. And franchises are also fickle — traded like Monopoly properties. There's no stigma in stealing a franchise, in relocating. Americans have been pulling up stakes and moving to greener pastures here since the Oregon Trail reached Tumwater.

We make the mistake in thinking that businesses are somehow nailed down. Would that it were true, but it's not. If Boeing can move its HQ to Chicago and some assembly plants to South Carolina, then trying to attain a big league status by permanently holding onto teams seems rather silly. Sports franchises are more virtual than airplane manufacturers. Getting a pledge not to pull up stakes is a good idea, but nothing is guaranteed.

Also, having a team does not mean glory. The Pilots were an ignominious flop during their single season. The Mariners are mired in "rebuilding," having provided minimal thrills since '95. The Seahawks have had to resort to meaningless marketing slogans that promise attitude, not wins. One of my favorites, from the Mike Holmgren era: "It's Now Time." What the hell did that mean? Even better where some of the classic Mariner's ad lines: "The Mariners are Big League Stuff," and "The Mariners are Playing Hardball." It's good to under-promise when you under-deliver.

There are good things that come from pro sports. Entertainment, for sure. Local business for another: tourists, bar and restaurant business, tax revenues, over-paid athletes donating to charity. And where would the Seattlepi.com be without a Seagals slideshow?

All that said, the only reason to justify the investment is passion, fun. We want it because we want it, even if sports cannot commit to loving us back. Chris Hansen, a hedge-fund manager, is a local boy with a passion for basketball and a memory of growing up with the Sonics. He wants to bring the team back because he loves the idea. He's admitted he can make more more money doing his hedging. The proposed deal deserves tough scrutiny, but if this is truly about love, let's listen.

Seattle doesn't need the Sonics or hockey, it doesn't need another new arena. It certainly won't become big-league over night because the NBA is back in town, if that were to happen. But the city is better off when big dreams are undertaken and people put money where their passion is. Better a locally raised guy like Chris Hansen putting his money where his love is than carpetbaggers trying to strip mine local pockets, then move the franchise a la Ken Behring, a guy who had the Seahawks moving vans loaded for Orange County.


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Comments:

Posted Fri, May 18, 3:48 a.m. Inappropriate

"Now we have to have everything."

Yep. I think it's a generational thing, Knute.
("Mommy, Daddy: gimme, gimme gimme...")

Our self-esteem depends on others. Ironic, no? Possibly tribal.

Posted Fri, May 18, 7 a.m. Inappropriate

It's pure BS to call it "investment." It's pure consumption. It's also a gigantic municipal tax subsidy to a California billionaire. And we can expect it to involve kickbacks to the local "progressive" politicos. Welcome to the Bigs, Seattle. You're just as corrupt as Chicago or New York now.

NotFan

Posted Fri, May 18, 9:53 a.m. Inappropriate

Well if the stadiums ever get built the city's portion of the deal, a loan for $200M will be paid back by the users of that stadium via admissions and parking taxes. So in effect, the sports fans will pay for it.

GaryP

Posted Fri, May 18, 12:40 p.m. Inappropriate

Yep, and GaryP would have the taxpayers build all of Starbucks's new restaurants, and fund them from the sales taxes generated by the stores. He would build Amazon's new office towers with public money, and pay for it with the sales taxes on whatever Amazon sells.

He would tell us that these were "investments," and would look the other way when Starbucks and Amazon kicked back money to the local "progressives." That's how "progressive" corruption and lies work here in Seattle. And when someone mocked "progressives," he'd pronounce himself wounded by the mockery.

NotFan

Posted Fri, May 18, 7:45 a.m. Inappropriate

Have a passion for basketball or hockey? Fine, pay for a new stadium yourself. Why should everyone else have to pay for your "passion?" Let the team owners, superfans, and media put up their own money for a new arena.

Posted Fri, May 18, 8:17 a.m. Inappropriate

Perhaps instead of the arean, we should just get the Last Exit back. Best peanut and butter sandwiches on the planet for starving architecture students!

sap

Posted Fri, May 18, 8:41 a.m. Inappropriate

Certainly do not invest public money in this venture without A PUBLIC VOTE.

If we are to vote on whether to fund a seawall to protect public safety and the waterfront, for libraries that anyone of any income level can access without paying admission, and for schools that are critical to current and future generations and are open to all students regardless of their families' income, then surely we should VOTE to decide whether to sink public money into a facility not everyone will use and that many won't be able to use because of their personal financial capability or lack thereof.

Then there is the issue of this facility's impact on a critical industrial and manufacturing area. Many want to disconnect the issues but that's not reality. Some arena proponents including Hansen have flatly stated their long-term goal is to create a much larger footprint -- an "entertainment district" -- and that pushing family wage industrial and manufacturing jobs is gonna happen anyway, so what's the big deal. The big deal is that families, businesses and our economy are sustained by those thousands of jobs, and the impact goes far beyond Seattle to the whole state as we are the most trade dependent state in the country. And those entertainment service jobs that would be created will likely pay half or less of what the jobs there now pay.

If we are willing to belly up to the bar (pun intended) and fund the needed infrastructure improvements and take steps to preserve industrial lands, then perhaps a new arena in Sodo can be an overall benefit. But as it is, without these commitments, this is a fool's errand. If this is the path we choose to take, then we indeed not to have the opportunity to choose it, and not have it mandated upon us by elected officials, some of whom are obviously star-struck to the point of forgetting their fiduciary and sensible public policy responsibilities. We should INSIST ON A PUBLIC VOTE -- I-91 was not it. That was a concept. This is real.

And you're right Knute, the concept that we "need" this arena to be "big-league" is ridiculous.

Posted Fri, May 18, 1:21 p.m. Inappropriate

Trust me, the two councils will not willingly hold a public referendum. They will rubber-stamp the secretly-negotiated "MOU," then waddle off into the night with their payoffs. We truly have the best "progressive" civil servants a California billionaire's money can buy.

Corruption barely seems an adequate word to describe what these pirates are doing. Honest officials would long since have laughed at Chris Hansen and told him to go sell his "deal" to some other group of civic crooks.

NotFan

Posted Fri, May 18, 1:40 p.m. Inappropriate

A public vote is a great way to test the city's passion for the teams and the deal.

Posted Fri, May 18, 3:47 p.m. Inappropriate

Perhaps, or maybe a public vote is just another way to test how much one-sided advertising is needed to buy the issue.

In 1997, Paul Allen and “Our Team Works” spent $3million to influence the stadium vote (on top of the $4million to fund the referendum). The other day, Costco spent $20 million for the liquor stores concession.

[REF:
http://www.nytimes.com/1997/05/25/us/a-decision-on-the-seattle-seahawks-home.html@sec=?_r=1

Knute

Posted Tue, May 22, 2:17 p.m. Inappropriate


Today’s Elway poll:
Only 30% of Seattle voters are willing to risk public money to finance the arena.

REF:
http://blogs.seattletimes.com/today/2012/05/poll-nba-arena-proposal-no-slam-dunk-for-local-voters/

Knute

Posted Fri, May 18, 8:58 p.m. Inappropriate

Knute, he have already had the dispassionate vote that defined what the public doesn't want, in the I-91 vote. The public has spoken, set some rules and policy, and now somebody has a proposal that complies with that policy.
the property has already been zoned as a "Stadium District" for this spacific purpose.

Are we going to arbitrarily change the rules on a case by case basis?

We are not talking about demolishing the Last Exit, but a warehouse that you could not possibly name off the top of your head, or observe from the top of the Space Needle.

Your story utilizes a photo of 3000 people gathering in the middle of a work week, at a courthouse. It's not 3000 billionaires, it's passionate fans that feel as much for their entertainment as the fans benefitting from public subsidy in the Opra House, or Beneroya Hall.

Should we have a vote on the Seattle Storm lease that the council exempted from I-91? It was approved on a "feeling" Tom Rassmusen had that the deal would work out. I wouldn't want a double standard.

We've had a vote, the dispassionate have spoken, and someone is willing to move forward in compliance with that policy. The council has criteria set by the public with which to make decisions.

Lastly, no serious follower of the Sonics saga reads Jerry Brewer. His powers of observation demonstrate that not all reporters should be columnists.

Mr Baker

Posted Sat, May 19, 10:54 p.m. Inappropriate

Nobody is "changing the rules" by putting this to a vote. I-91 merely sets the financial perameters that must be met. There was nothing whatsoever in I-91 to imply that voters approved any building that satisfies I-91. It only meant that anything that does NOT satisfy I-91 can NOT be built.

Are you capable of understanding this, Baker?

Lincoln

Posted Sun, May 20, 7:59 a.m. Inappropriate

The property is not zoned as a stadium district, Mr. Baker; that is a lie. It is zoned Industrial Commercial. The site is located in a "Temporary Stadium Area Overlay District". Look it up, it's in the Municipal Code. The intent was to facilitate transportation to and from the existing stadiums to light rail, buses, etc. Guess what? They never finished the infrastructure for that. And now you are telling us this is a "Stadium District" for a third stadium? That is some very creative PR. Too bad it it a total lie for Arena Solutions marketing purposes. And you are repeating that lie.

In fact all land zoned Industrial Commercial, Industrial Buffer, and Industrial General have exemptions in their zoning for sports stadiums. According to yours and others' loose interpretation of land use, we could build on on the Ballard waterfront, we could build one next the the Sculpture park, and we could build one on Nickerson next to Fremont. We could build one in Fremont. The SMC says the same thing about these areas as your mythical "Stadium District"

But what you really need to do, Mr. Baker, is read the Comprehensive Plan. Then you and your phoney investor and mystery phoney investor team would understand that Seattle is more then what a general set of zoning codes have to say. We actually have civic planning here, Mr. Baker, with a process; without that, we would have a freeway where the Arboretum is now. That is not subject to change based on one investor who left town as soon as he turned 18.

Stadium District = doesn't exist. Find me anything in the SMC, DPD rules, and Comp Plan that mentions a "Stadium District". You can't because it doesn't exist, except as marketing for commercial real estate agents and in the minds of rabid sports boosters who don't even pay taxes in Seattle.

Godwin

Posted Fri, May 18, 2:41 p.m. Inappropriate

And yet again notFan, you willfully miss the point. It isn't about a stadium in Seattle, it's about the stadiums in every other NBA city. We are just being used as a tool by the NBA to extort money from those cities under the threat to move the team here.

GaryP

Posted Fri, May 18, 5:29 p.m. Inappropriate

Always nice to watch a "progressive" talk out of both sides of his mouth.

On the one side, you misrepresent the nature of the proposal, and its details. On the other side, you claim it doesn't count anyway. If that was the case, then why are the "progressives" in the mayor's office, the county executive's office, and the two councils even bothering to put it on the calendar?

I'll tell you why: They fully intend to rubber-stamp this deal, and then be personally compensated for their spending of taxpayer money on a billionaire's toy. It is direct, naked "progressive" corruption, on full display. This is what's done in Seattle.

NotFan

Posted Fri, May 18, 8:45 a.m. Inappropriate

"ought" rather than "not" to have the opportunity...

Posted Fri, May 18, 8:52 a.m. Inappropriate

I agree, being "world class" has little to do with it. (I thought that term was only used by opponents of various things as a taunt!)

It's only an investment in the broadest sense. Economic impact studies notoriously fail to mention that most spending is by locals who would have spent the same money either way. But much as we fund art, parks, etc. (and we all share the cost for them), sports teams have broad entertainment appeal and contribute to a city's collective spirit. They're worth something beyond the bottom line, or in ways that contribute to the bottom line way down the road rather than in obvious ways.

I'm proud that Seattle hasn't always thrown money at pro sports the way other cities have. And I'm not sure about the location of the arena, given conflicts with stadium events, the port, etc. But if this is even a halfway good deal financially, I'll vote yes in a heartbeat.

mhays

Posted Fri, May 18, 9:02 a.m. Inappropriate

Thank you! I could not agree more.

The NEXT worst arguments for bringing an NBA franchise back to Seattle include:

A That we want the NBA in Seattle.
How can anyone trust David Stern and his lawyers? they play hard ball and they pit one city against the other. I cannot understand why we should want to kowtow to him once again and reward people who use their tactics.

B That we want the NHL in Seattle.
Years back my family accidently accepted tickets to a professional hockey game. Over the din of the amplified cacophony, my kids yelled:
“ARE THEY REALLY FIGHTING? Why don’t they STOP them?”
Me: “Uh I don't know … maybe its play fighting, like that TV wrestling”
“That’s stupid”
"Yup"

C That a fifth sports facility is a wise investment for the city.
If this sports arena is such a responsible bet, then these accomplished business leaders should have no problem securing private financing –especially with historically low interest rates. Instead, their incredibly lucrative business model is take the upside, play some type of escape clause, make the public “invest” another $50-70 million in upgrades, and leave the public with the downside. No, they know a white elephant when they see it.

D That the Sonics should be located in Seattle.
Yeah, let’s keep gumming up our downtown transit hub with these weeknight events for suburbanites – its just what our evening commute could use. As history tells us, the SST program began in Renton and Seattle stole the name. Since Renton, or at least Senator Prentice, wants this sports arena, the least we can do is help them to this no brainer.

(Another) Knute

Knute

Posted Fri, May 18, 9:08 a.m. Inappropriate

Seattle is so close to the border. I say, let's get our own hockey team. F Canada!

SteveShay

Posted Fri, May 18, 10:12 a.m. Inappropriate

Ah, the Last Exit on Brooklyn. Far from the public subsidizing it, the public (in the form of the UW) forced it to move in the early '90s, a few years after which it closed for good... I'm not even sure the UW ever put the building to good use afterwards.

Posted Sun, May 20, 8:01 a.m. Inappropriate

Miss that place.

Godwin

Posted Fri, May 18, 7:45 p.m. Inappropriate

Chris Hansen is not a boy. Let's drop the "local boy", the "when I was a boy", blah, blah, blah. He's a money grubbing man that's looking to make a quick buck and play in the big leagues with his fellow billionaires or millionaires.

And furthermore - get real about the rest of this - Hansen filed in Tumwater in April to set up another fund - he's selling shares in this deal after snookering the Mayor and company into putting up public financing. Of course he'll name his other partners after this announcement b/c now he's got the deal that he can leverage to nail down those partners. It was an audacious sales job by Hansen, one McGinn fell for in his rush to shore up his crappy administration with this deal.

Posted Sat, May 19, 11:03 a.m. Inappropriate

We already have a professional basketball team in Seattle, one with a winning record every season for the past decade, but apparently the fact that the players are women means they aren't "world class." The Sonics only had two winning seasons in the same period, before stamping off in a tantrum to Oklahoma City. Meanwhile, the Mariners have had only four winning seasons in the same period and the Seahawks five. In other words, these teams are good for two things to Seattle: more taxes and traffic jams. If the 'burbs want 'em, let the 'burbs pay for and build the stadium.

Posted Sat, May 19, 11:24 a.m. Inappropriate

I'm proud of the women's team. But it's hard to get behind a league where the quality of play, regardless of outstanding skill and competition, is far lower. The Storm would probably (?) beat a top boys high school team but not a decent college team. They'd never get a rebound for starters.

Note that people aren't counting the Husky men either. On the hockey side (not that I pay attention) they're not counting the junior teams in Kent and Everett. This is about whether we have a team is the #1 league for that sport (or at least the #1 US league in soccer's case), not whether women are being respected.

mhays

Posted Mon, May 21, 8:50 a.m. Inappropriate

You mean it's okay to have a team that sucks as long as the league that team is in has a high enough "quality of play?" This stadium is an expensive proposition in lean financial times. "Passion" is fine and all, but not everyone shares that passion especially, as past votes have shown, in the city of Seattle, which would bear the brunt of cost and hassle from this arena. Let the fans who find this "quality of play" argument compelling pay, with higher ticket costs, pay-per-view fees, or a voluntary tax of some kind.

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