King County Council approves Seattle arena plan

SEATTLE — One vote down and plenty more to go in the quest to build a new arena that could bring the NBA back to Seattle.

The Metropolitan King County Council took the initial step on Monday afternoon, approving the amended proposal from investor Chris Hansen by a 6-3 vote. After four hours of public testimony and statements from council members, the Hansen’s proposal — with a few tweaks — got the required number of votes to move forward.

Now the plan goes to the Seattle City Council, but if its actions earlier Monday are any indication, Hansen’s $490 million arena plan that includes nearly $300 million in private funds and $200 million in public contribution has plenty of adjustments and changes yet to come.

“I want to personally thank the King County Council for all of their hard work and for taking a big step today to move forward on our proposal,” Hansen said in a statement issued immediately after the vote. “There is still much more to be done, but I am looking forward to sitting down with City Council members to figure out how we can make this deal work for everyone.”

Before the county had its chance to vote, the city took the first steps in indicating just what concessions they are seeking from Hansen.

Eight of nine Seattle councilmembers unveiled a letter to Hansen saying changes must be made to the proposal before they could support it. The City Council wants to ensure that a portion of tax revenues generated by a new arena would help pay for local transportation improvements. Currently, the proposal calls for those taxes to be used to pay off the $200 million in city and county bonds for the $490 million arena.

Traffic concerns in the SoDo neighborhood — where Safeco Field, CenturyLink Field and the Port of Seattle all share limited space — have been at the core of arguments against Hansen’s plan.

Bruce Harrell, who has been a strong proponent of Hansen’s proposal, was the only member of the city council not to sign the letter. At a news conference early Monday afternoon, City Council President Sally Clark said the changes requested in the Council’s letter were not designed to kill the deal.

“This is about figuring out how do we get to ‘yes,’” Clark said.

Aaron Pickus, spokesman for Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, said of the City Council’s letter, “we are open to changes, but we think it would be a big mistake to let this investment go by.”

County councilmembers Larry Gossett, Joe McDermott, Julia Patterson, Kathy Lambert, Bob Ferguson and Jane Hague voted in favor, while Larry Phillips, Reagan Dunn and Pete von Reichbauer voted against the proposal. Dunn and Phillips both said they were not comfortable with Monday’s vote being a binding agreement and wanted to see the results of an in-depth economic study that was amended into the agreement, concerned that a new arena could hurt business at the Port of Seattle.

Other amendments included the county asking the city and the Seattle Storm to work on a favorable and transferable lease. The Storm’s current subsidy of at least $300,000 per year from the city has become a sticking point in negotiations between Hansen and the city. The county also inserted an amendment that called for at least 500 tickets to each game available at $10 or less and another 1,000 at $20 or less. Patterson, who pushed for that amendment, said Hansen had agreed to that stipulation.

“It’s been a long road to get to where we are today,” McDermott said.

While Monday’s vote was an important step, the county could be back voting again in the near future. Any changes the city council makes to the memorandum of understanding — and there are almost assured to be changes — would then need to go back to the county for approval.

“This is the first step before we really get into the nitty gritty,” Patterson said. “We’re not taking a vote today to build a basketball arena, we’re taking a vote today on a plan for moving forward on a basketball arena.”

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