I sat down this week with Howard Lincoln, CEO of the Mariners, and Bart Waldman, the club’s legal counsel, to ask questions about the club’s objections to Chris Hansen’s proposed basketball/hockey arena that abuts the team’s parking garage in SoDo.
The city and county councils are expected to vote Monday to approve a memorandum of understanding with Hansen, a little more than six months after the Mariners wrote a letter to all parties saying the project “will not work” so close to their stadium and other businesses.
Here is the full transcript of the interview:
Q: Isn’t the primary reason for your opposition to the arena the threat posed by one or two more sports teams crowding the market?
Lincoln: I don’t think we’ve done as good a job as we should have in explaining our position to our public and our fans. I think our only issue is the ability of our fans to get to Safeco Field because of the worsening congestion in this area.
We’re not concerned about competition. The Sonics were here before we were. When they were here, we never even thought about competition. Our view is there is room in this market for the NBA, and the NHL as well.
This ownership group is the steward for major league baseball here. We felt an obligation to speak out and alert political leaders of our concern. It’s strictly about fans getting here. If they can’t get here, then baseball doesn’t work.
I was an NBA fan long before I was a Mariners fan. I saw Lenny Wilkens play at Seattle Center. My heroes were Freddy Brown, Dennis Johnson, Lonnie Shelton, and Jack Sikma. I was at those games before the 1979 championship. I remember (Golden State All-Star) Rick Barry almost running over my head when somebody threw beer at him.
The idea of the Sonics coming back is great. We don’t think an NBA arena works next to our parking garage. We are very pleased the way this is going — an environmental impact study that addresses fully the traffic and scheduling issues.
The one thing we didn’t make clear in the April 3 letter is we have a problem that is unique regarding scheduling. MLB announces its schedule in August each year and we have no ability to change the schedule. Other sports have more flexibility.
Q: Why do you think your position is misunderstood and denigrated?
Lincoln: Sports fans are pretty emotional. There’s a ton of people emotionally involved in getting the Sonics back. It’s easy for them to say the Mariners shouldn’t say anything, and that the Mariners have problems other than the one we expressed [congestion].
To the extent they have misunderstood what we’ve tried to say, I’d be the first to apologize.
Q: Isn’t the problem of seasonal overlaps something that can be negotiated and managed?
Waldman: We’ve looked at NBA and NHL master schedules. Depending on playoffs, you’d typically have six to 12 conflicts annually if both teams were here and made the playoffs. Roughly half the teams in each sport make the playoffs, so that would occur roughly half the time. We think it would be on average three regular season games and three playoff games for each sport.
The only place in the country that has all four teams in buildings close together is Philadlphia. They also have 22,000 surface parking spaces there, and the sports sites are not near their port, it’s away from downtown traffic, and is served by two major freeways and four major on and off ramps. Nor does Philadelphia have railroad tracks on one side and water on the other.
You can always deal with a one-off event a couple of times. We have done that with the Sounders, and we work like crazy to make it happen. We just did that recently (by changing a Saturday start time to reduce the conflict). You don’t want it to be a regular condition.
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