Like many Washington residents and long-time supporters of the Sonics, we now have a renewed hope to see our team return to Seattle. We are also very excited at the potential of having an NHL franchise in our global city. We relish the prospect of re-instilling a part of the community spirit that went missing when we lost Seattle's original team.
Many independent analysts have concluded that Mr. Hansen's proposal, with numerous benefits and safeguards provided, is solid. The contribution of hundreds of millions of dollars of private capital, coupled with a financing model predicated on arena revenues that would not otherwise exist — all while offering critical safeguards to protect the taxpayers — provides the opportunity for a unique public–private partnership with the City and County. We strongly agree that "[t]he pro-basketball arena proposed for Sodo would be the best deal for the public of any sports stadium built around here in nearly 75 years" (Danny Westneat, Seattle Times, May 29, 2012).
Among several serious and significant taxpayer protections, the basic framework of this potential agreement requires the Arena group to cover any cost overruns on construction, to set aside adequate reserves to back the annual debt service, and to make up any shortfall on the debt service that might accrue from operating revenue shortfalls.
The group must also sign a 30-year lease which provides a binding non-relocation agreement for the team, open their books annually to assure continued profitability of the enterprise, and contribute $2 million per year into a fund for capital upkeep and improvements to ensure the arena remains a state of the art facility. This has led Professor Justin Marlow of the UW School of Public Affairs to conclude that “[t]he MOU is one of the most favorable to the public of any recent public-private partnerships.” (Lynn Thompson, Seattle Times, July 14, 2012).
We should not eliminate opportunities like this for our region as long as all due diligence is done, and done right. If there are ways to improve the Arena project plan, by all means we should pursue them. But let's also recognize that this is a unique opportunity. Indeed, letting this proposal pass would leave us wondering for years what could have come from a project promising thousands of family wage jobs, enhanced civic pride, and an increased sense of unity with the return of the Sonics.
We must also emphasize that this project will help boost our economy by directly creating nearly 2,000 sorely needed local construction jobs, while generating additional state and local revenues. And not to be ignored are the indirect benefits of the investment, which will increase economic and cultural activity in ancillary industries, such as hotels and restaurants.
Nonetheless, we believe it’s imperative to remain mindful of the overall impacts to other sectors of our community, including the repurposing of Key Arena, and the impact of SODO traffic congestion on freight mobility and operations of the Port of Seattle. Key Arena is a historic institution to our city, and the maritime industry and our trade-based economy are key drivers of family wage jobs and continued economic prosperity for our region and the state.
However, our observation is that some of the key stakeholders with concerns have failed to take a critical step — to collectively communicate specific concerns and solutions for mitigation. In particular, discussions over traffic congestion and freight mobility in the SODO area to date have been vague and anecdotal, and not particularly solution-oriented. We look forward to and encourage such discussions.
In an effort to come to a long-term resolution, we encourage the City Council to continue moving this proposal forward, while allowing processes already planned to take place — such as the freight mobility study planned by the Port and City of Seattle and funded by the Puget Sound Regional Council, and the environmental impact statement. These processes are designed to allow the appropriate stakeholders to participate, and we believe they will provide a genuine and comprehensive solution based on actual data rather than vague impacts, aspirational goals, and anecdotes.
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