New Seattle arena would be ‘job killer,’ port officials say

SEATTLE — Port officials say placing a new sports arena in Seattle’s SoDo neighborhood without significant transportation improvements would be a “job killer.”

Investor Chris Hansen is working on a deal with King County and the City of Seattle for an arena near the Mariners and Seahawks stadiums that could host NBA and NHL franchises. But business and labor groups oppose that idea, saying a new stadium would exacerbate traffic problems in the industrial area south of downtown.

Port of Seattle Commissioner Tom Albro told the King County Council on Tuesday that a third stadium would cost jobs unless a lot of money is spent mitigating the impact of a new facility. Albro said he’s not opposed to bringing the NBA back to Seattle, but other locations should be considered.

“Basketball, good. That siting, without massive mitigation, bad,” Albro said. “Siting an arena there is a job killer for us.”

County Councilman Larry Gossett pushed back against Albro’s claim that a new SoDo arena could hurt employment.

“I don’t know how you can already be able to make that prediction, when in fact traffic mitigation has already been looked at by the city … nothing remotely suggests that the building of a stadium in SoDo would be massively bad for our community,” Gossett said.

Speaking later before the County Council, Hansen said under the agreement no public money would be tapped until his group obtained a professional basketball team. But he said city-county approval for a new arena was needed before they could pursue a team.

“The NBA would not consider putting a team here until an arena deal is in place,” Hansen said.

County Councilman Pete von Reichbauer asked whether Hansen would support a vote by King County residents on whether the county should allow the developers to use public borrowing capacity to help finance the deal. Hansen said he hoped the County Council would make the decision itself.

“The general public has elected you guys to make decisions like this,” Hansen said.

Tay Yoshitani, chief executive officer of the port, told the council’s transportation panel that large regional companies like Boeing and Weyerhaeuser depend on the Port of Seattle to get their products to market. Yoshitani said there are already 7,000 daily truck trips to Seattle terminals, rail yards and distribution centers. That could jump to more than 11,000 daily trips as the port expands, he said.

“Our ask is that you please consider all these issues carefully, because we believe a lot is at stake,” Yoshitani said.

Former Seattle City Councilman Peter Steinbrueck told the County Council Tuesday that he thought the proposed arena deal violated land use law. Aaron Pickus, spokesman for Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, who supports the arena proposal, said in a statement that putting the facility in SoDo is “legal and appropriate.”

Hansen has proposed building a nearly $500 million, 18,000-seat arena just south of Safeco and CenturyLink fields. The plan calls for nearly $300 million in private investment from Hansen’s group, which includes Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. The amount of public support would be $200 million if an NBA and NHL franchise moved here. New owners moved the Seattle SuperSonics, now known as the Thunder, to Oklahoma City in 2008.

Supporters of the new Seattle arena plan say traffic concerns raised by business and labor are overblown and that most of the events at a new facility would be held at night.

The city and county councils are expected to vote on the proposed arena deal later this summer.

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