The Mariners explain their case against a new SoDo sports arena

In an exclusive interview, M's CEO Howard Lincoln explains the team's position against the arena, a stand that has generated fury among many Seattle sports fans.
The SoDo district

The SoDo district Nancy Regan/Flickr

Site of the proposed new arena in SoDo. First Avenue South is the western boundary; the Safeco Field garage is to the north.

Site of the proposed new arena in SoDo. First Avenue South is the western boundary; the Safeco Field garage is to the north. Sportspress Northwest/City of Seattle

Six months after the Mariners wrote their infamous "it won't work" letter opposing proposed basketball/hockey arena in SoDo, the Seattle city and King County councils are set to approve a deal with arena developer Chris Hansen on Monday.

But the club has not openly answered lots of questions about its rationale for the opposition that has generated such contempt and ridicule from Seattle sports fans seeking the return of the NBA — until now.

In an exclusive interview this week, CEO Howard Lincoln, along with Bart Waldman, executive vice-president for legal and governmental affairs, answered questions, dispelled rumors, and, yes, even apologized for inadequate explanation of their position.

In the hour-long interview, the entire text of which can be by clicking on the story in the Related Contents box, Lincoln said the Mariners are pleased to get what the letter sought — a full environmental study that will include a serious look at alternate sites — but are no less convinced that putting an arena so close to Safeco Field on the doorstep of the Port of Seattle is a bad idea that will work against the best interests of all.

The biggest issue for the Mariners is not the conflicts presented by NBA and NHL seasons, which may be between six and 12 dates annually, but all the other events that need to fill the arena to make it work financially.

"It’s the concerts, circuses, ice shows, trade shows, and everything else that is typical to most arenas that’s the biggest problem,” said Waldman. “As many as a third to a half of our games can be conflicted. You start to get in a fight every Friday night with a concert versus a ballgame.”

The Mariners believe that a reasonably full house at Safeco will take up all of the rapidly shrinking pool of available parking — a pool that has lost 4,000 spots to development since Safeco’s opening in 1999 — and will need to find 7,000 spaces to accommodate a sellout crowd at the 18,000 seat arena. A garage at the arena will help, but it won’t be nearly enough.

Lincoln and Waldman dispelled three rumors that have made the rounds about the real reasons for their resistance:

  • That the Mariners fear the competition for the sports dollar with NBA and NHL teams: “We’re not concerned about competition,” Lincoln said. “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.”
  • That the Mariners fear NBA and NHL teams will dilute their opportunity for a windfall when their TV contract with ROOT Sports can be re-opened in 2015: “Most media experts will tell you the opposite,” Waldman said. “In most media markets where there are baseball and basketball, they often form their own regional sports networks. Generally there’s a sense that the two sports augment rights fees, not diminish them. It brings more to the party. So we’ve been bullish on an NBA team coming back.”
  • That the Mariners wanted to develop the adjacent property themselves: “No, we’re not a land acquisition business, we’re in the baseball business,” Lincoln said. “If someone had said you [Mariners] ought to buy that warehouse next to the garage because someone might put an arena there, I would have said, 'You’re crazy.' Why would we want to buy more land? That thought has never come up with our ownership group. If fans are upset with us now, imagine what it would be like if we were spending money on something besides payroll.”

Lincoln did own up to the fact that his April 3 letter to political leaders led to misunderstanding and criticism by the public and the principals in the deal:


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Comments:

Posted Fri, Oct 12, 9:10 a.m. Inappropriate

Philadelphia has football, baseball and basketball/hockey facilities immediately adjacent to each other, directly off I-95 (which is much busier than I-5) and bordered by a major river with relatively few bridges. Somehow they have made it work. Too bad Seattle has such a can't-do attitude.

bigyaz

Posted Fri, Oct 12, 10:29 a.m. Inappropriate

Mayor McGinn has correctly observed that the stadium area is served by multiple forms of public transportation, including Metro, Sound Transit, light rail (direct from the airport and downtown), Amtrak, even cruise ships.

It's already difficult enough to drive and park there. If city policy would make it a little harder or more expensive to drive and park there for big events, maybe people will wise up and avail themselves of our extensive and varied public transit systems.

Then, the traffic congestion problem goes away, and maybe everyone will be happy.

Posted Fri, Oct 12, 11:22 a.m. Inappropriate

Los Angeles currently is attempting to build a new pro football stadium next door to its NBA arena and convention center, right on the southern edge of the CBD and near three freeways that are almost always congested. A competing proposal would site the football stadium in a distant eastern suburb directly served by several different freeways and geographically more accessible to the eastern Los Angeles Basin and central and southern Orange County populations. Despite environmental report and other issues, the NFL team owners probably control the final decision, since LA currently does not have a team. Do the NBA owners have similar control over the Seattle area location?

plesourd

Posted Fri, Oct 12, 11:24 a.m. Inappropriate

How do we get back the 4,000 plus lost parking spaces, mostly free, that have been cannibalized by viaduct demolition and transit worshipers? The Hansen property may be in a 'zoned for stadiums' district but simply too far away from Pioneer Square and downtown.

animalal

Posted Fri, Oct 12, 3:22 p.m. Inappropriate

Maybe a new mayor?

simorgh

Posted Fri, Oct 12, 10:25 p.m. Inappropriate

I do believe I could care any less about major sports.

However I remember what a pain it was to work near the stadium.

Parking was and is going to be a problem.
SOLUTION 1. Outlaw all parking even that on private property. Yes that will eliminate tailgate parties - we got tired of picking up their mess.
2. All events at the Enertainment Area will include pre paid (or paid by the stadium operator) free transit pass ie if you have a ticket then it is free transportation to stadium and to home.
3. The cost of this will be supported by the Entertainment Gang. Not the taxpayer. Metro provides buses and operators at an hourly billing and the big money boys pay the bill. Same for rail.
4. It can be argued the handicapped may not be able to walk that far. Good argument - again the big money boys can provide transportation. If they use public owned equipment they pay the bill.
5. I do not care about the cost to the big money boys. They can always pass the cost on to their consumer.

I stil do not understand why the arena at Seattle Center would not work except it is not served by transportation as well as Entertainment Center

The complaint about the other events and Oh NO the stadium will have to share the money pie - please call someone who cares.

leitmotif

Posted Wed, Oct 17, 12:51 p.m. Inappropriate

@Mariners- Stop whining! You got a taxpayer subsidized stadium and never had to kick in for the traffic mess you are causing; so it is a bit hypocritical to expect the owner of an 18,000 fan arena to pay $40 million and you pay nothing. Proportionately speaking, Mariners should kick in $80 million. Sea Hawks and Sounders share of $120 million and the $71 million dollar a year tax subsidized Port,a major player in the SoDo traffic, ought to dedicate 1 year of taxpayer subsidies to participate in traffic solutions. If everyone causing the traffic problems who are getting tax subsidies (sports teams are getting admission taxes, Port tax subsidies) kicks in their fair share, the SoDo area could easily handle the new arena and Port operations and traffic could flow easier. I also agree that all Sports Stadii should work together to encourage and support fans' use of public transportation.
With regard to the Mariner's responses, I frankly do not believe them. I think they are afraid of losing ticket dollars, they don't want a SoDo Entertainment area developed to compete with their concession revenue and they are worried about losing media dollars. If they had come to the table to problem solve rather than hide in the shadows using using their financial resources to opose and fight this arena proposal, fans would support them. But they didn't.
There really is NO SITE in Seattle where parking and traffic will work. The Seattle Center would be cost prohibitive to demolish, excavete to build parking underneath it and then traffic would be a nughtmare- just trying to exit traffic out of there - a mess; use of public transportation far less robust than SoDo.
Lastly, I believe the Key should be re-purposed with a use more compatible. The Seattle Center - the Music and Arts Center of Seattle - Theatre, Ballet, Art, Music. Rather than seeing the Key as a White Elephant, see it in a new way.
SoDo IS the best place for a new Arena!

Malc9

Posted Wed, Oct 31, 8:37 a.m. Inappropriate

Yeah, and about that "zoned for staduims" thing, it's pretty obvious from the zoning language that the area was intended as a buffer between all the existing stadium-related pedestrian traffic and the industrial areas, not another stadium or an entire sports entertainment complex for that matter. Even DOT's SR 519 planning documentation says as much back in 2000 when the district was established. The location is just not a good fit.

swendr

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