Today’s special episode of Seattle Growth Podcast focuses on the future of Key Arena. This issue has become more relevant as multiple groups are hoping to bring professional basketball and hockey back to Seattle. Key Arena played home to the basketball franchise Seattle Supersonics until 2008, when the team moved to Oklahoma City. In its current state, the arena does not meet the expectations of the NBA or the NHL.

There are three proposals to develop an NBA-ready arena that are being considered by City Council. Two groups have proposed to renovate Key Arena, while one group, led by Chris Hansen, is proposing to develop a sports and entertainment complex in the SODO neighborhood.

The issue is now two-fold: Which proposal will the city support for the purpose of attracting professional basketball and hockey teams?  And secondly, if Key Arena is not chosen for that purpose, what will the city do with that public asset?

In this episode, City Councilmember Rob Johnson describes the process by which the proposals will be evaluated and offers insight into the pros and cons of each.

Developer Sam Farrazaino offers an alternative vision for repurposing Key Arena should a development in SODO becomes the home of professional arena sports.

This episode gives you a better understanding of how public resources may be deployed in bringing the NBA and NHL to Seattle and in improving Seattle Center.

 

Episode Recap

Rob Johnson describes what Seattle Center means to the city as whole (4:45). He describes what he would like Key Arena to mean to Seattle Center and the region (5:49) and what he is looking for in the proposals (7:48). He notes his concern is “to make sure that we are not privatizing the profit and publicizing the risk.”

He describes the pros and cons of the Oak View Group proposal (9:44). He views the community partnerships and community outreach as positives. Johnson noted, “The financial elements are the pieces that are the hardest to unravel because they both require some level of public subsidies.”

One concern Johnson noted with the Oak View Group proposal is how it will affect the citizens of Seattle. “They ask for a forgiveness on the sales taxes associated with construction, which will likely save them several hundreds of millions of dollars…They may not require a direct public subsidy. By not paying that sales tax, it does have a downstream impact on the kinds of services that we can provide as a city and county.”

Johnson briefly described the memorandum of understanding the city has signed with the SoDo arena group (13:12) and then discussed the pros and cons of the Seattle Partners proposal to renovate Key Arena (14:35). “From an urban design perspective, it is a slightly better proposal the way it meets the street.” Johnson noted the transportation investment strategies as another benefit. However, the financial component is something he believes needs to be vetted properly. “The biggest piece of their financial assumptions are again that access to city bonding authority. There are some other issues that I think we need to have worked out too.”

Johnson also provides an explanation of the process by which the arena will be chosen (16:29).

As far as the timeline for an arena to be built? “Even if we were to sign on the dotted line with a Key Arena proposal before the end of the year, we are still several years away from actually being ready for the building to start construction. Whereas if were to sign on the dotted line with SoDo before the end of the year, they could start construction immediately after we sign on the dotted line.”

If the SODO proposal is approved, it appears from episode 8 of Seattle Growth Podcast that the mayor’s office believes the city can accommodate only one sports and entertainment complex. This means the city might need to find another use for its public asset. To stimulate creative thinking about alternative futures for Seattle’ Center’s Key Arena, I reached out to a Seattle Growth Podcast guest from Season 1, artist-turned-developer Sam Farrazaino.

Sam Farrazaino envisions an “arts enclave in the spirit of a Pike Place Market. Local people who are creating stuff on site.” Keeping the existing structure intact, he would “break the central part of the arena down into four different performance venues.” Using the service stations and suites, he would create spaces for photographers, painters, sculptors, and other artists. This would allow visitors to “experience the arts in the place they are made.” He argues, “we need more space for local arts to thrive.”  

Farrazaino shares what inspired the idea (32:15). He provides a rough estimate of what it would cost (37:35) and describes how the project could earn back the investment (38:10) with more specifics on how to possibly make the numbers work at 48:42.   

What could does he believe this mean to Seattle Center (42:58) and to the city (52:05)? Listen to find out.

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