A major boost for region

The central Puget Sound region, from Snohomish County south to Pierce County, is an interconnected, interactive network of commerce, transportation and recreation. Activities in one area affect the others to some degree, for good or for ill.

In the discussion about whether Seattle and King County will support a public/private plan to build a new basketball/hockey arena near the Mariners’ and Seahawks’ stadiums, Snohomish County has no formal role to play. It is, however, a highly interested bystander.

Sports fans here are as eager as any in the region for the return of the NBA to Seattle, and the introduction of the NHL to an area that, as Everett Silvertips fans have shown, loves hockey.

But if a third major sports arena in an already congested freight corridor causes significant economic disruption, the consequences will be felt here, too.

An early look at the proposal unveiled Wednesday by Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, King County Executive Dow Constantine and Chris Hansen, the wealthy hedge-fund manager who wants to own a new version of the Seattle SuperSonics, shows a plan that isn’t risk-free, but that ought to be pursued vigorously. From here, it looks like a potentially huge win for the region.

Risks to taxpayers in Seattle and King County, compared with previous stadium deals, are minimal. Safeguards in the agreement are many, with Hansen and his group of private investors taking virtually all of the financial risk, including covering cost overruns. What they seek in public funding — a combined $120 million from the city and county if just an NBA team comes here, $200 million if an NHL team joins it — would be repaid with revenue generated by arena operations.

The teams would be required to sign 30-year commitments to stay in Seattle, covering the life of the public debt. The private investors would operate the arena and pay to maintain it.

The biggest potential challenge comes from the stadium district’s proximity to the Port of Seattle, which has expressed concerns about freight mobility and the jobs such commerce supports.

It’s a legitimate issue, but it shouldn’t be an insurmountable one.

Basketball, hockey and other entertainment events at the new arena would occur almost exclusively at night or on weekends. Careful scheduling should minimize freight disruptions. That said, the state and region must work on solutions for moving people and freight more effectively, whether a new arena is built or not.

The stadium district is a major hub for light rail and commuter rail, as well as bus routes. With light rail expanding north to Snohomish County and east of Lake Washington in the coming years, thousands of fans will have realistic alternatives to driving to games.

The private investment promised — $290 million in arena construction, plus any cost overruns — is an almost unheard of offer that shouldn’t be dismissed as the city and county councils consider the proposal.

Pro sports are an asset to this region, fostering pride and connecting people in positive ways. Adding the NBA and, potentially, the NHL to the Puget Sound sports scene would be a huge boost, economically and culturally.

Both councils should study the proposal carefully. After doing so, we hope they approve it.

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