Bringing the Sonics Back to Seattle

More than five years ago, our Seattle-based partnership began the long and thorough process of developing the SODO Arena.  Our sole focus is to bring the NBA and NHL back to Seattle. We believe our proposal to build a privately funded, state-of-the-art Arena at the southern end of Seattle’s zoned Stadium District, directly south of the two existing sports venues, is the City’s best chance to achieve those goals.

Since we began the process in 2011, we have invested more than $100 million to acquire the land in the Stadium District, paid for a lengthy environmental review as well as traffic, parking and economic impact studies.  All those studies, as well as the Final Environmental Impact Statement, concluded that the SODO Arena presented no significant unavoidable impacts to the street system, public transportation or freight movement.

Before choosing the Stadium District site, we took a long and careful look at KeyArena. That review led us to the conclusion that the traffic, parking and other issues at that location and the surrounding dense Uptown Neighborhood, posed significant obstacles to developing a fan-friendly, major league sports venue.  I have had a lot of personal history with Key Arena and with its predecessor, the Seattle Center Coliseum.  Going back to the Pleistocene era when I played…the Sonics competed for the NBA Championship at that site and again in 1996.

We would like nothing better than a solution that enables Seattle fans to again share that experience.   If KeyArena were the optimal site for attracting professional teams here, we would wholeheartedly support it.  But, we worry that the site and structure of a deal with a third-party operator, will make it more challenging.

Unlike the KeyArena site, the Stadium District enjoys an existing and robust transportation network that is well suited to handle large-scale events. This transportation network includes local and regional connections to ferries, buses, light rail, heavy rail and freeways, all within an easy walk to the Arena. Our project also includes ample parking options within the Arena vicinity.

The freight mobility concerns raised by the Port of Seattle are misplaced. Almost all the events at the SODO Arena would take place at night, well after Port operations have closed. NBA fans in general, show up at their arena, very close to game time.  There is no tailgating in January in Seattle and the Arena doors would not even open until 90 minutes before the tip.

Also, according to the city’s recently adopted Freight Transportation Plan and the Final EIS, that one-block segment of Occidental is not vital to the SODO freight transportation network. Additionally, the Lander Street Overpass project will dead end Occidental just south of the proposed Arena, making that stretch of Occidental even less useful to the SODO transportation network.

It’s important to understand that if the Council rejects the street vacation, it is likely that the site will be commercially developed, allowable under current zoning. That alternative would generate significant peak-period traffic that would be in direct conflict with the freight community.

We recently submitted a new petition to vacate the one-block segment of Occidental Avenue South needed to construct the Arena. If granted by the City Council, we will purchase that approximate 40,000 square feet of land at an appraised market rate value, with those funds going toward additional transportation improvements in the SODO neighborhood.

It should also be noted that, unlike a KeyArena redevelopment, the SODO Arena would generate significant property tax revenue for the City, County, Port and State.  In fact, a rough estimate of the property tax paid annually to the city of Seattle alone should exceed $1,000,000, per year.  Local and state schools should get well north of $3,000,000 per year from the outset, just from the property tax alone, on the SODO Arena.  Over the expected thirty-year plus life of the Arena, our schools should receive an incremental $100,000,000 from this privately owned and financed building.  This doesn’t even begin to factor the large amount of sales tax generated, which benefits the City, County and State, particularly if we can attract both the NBA and NHL.

The benefit package we have offered as a part of the vacation petition includes a large, public open-space site comparable in size to Westlake and Occidental Parks, an on-site ecological treatment facility that will biologically treat wastewater for reuse in the Arena, a generous public art program and significant transportation improvements that will benefit the freight community, bikes and pedestrians. The Arena will also include an 800-foot-long pedestrian and bike bridge to improve traffic flow and safety over the active rail corridor. The benefit package totals almost $27 million, not including the cost of the mitigation that will be required by the Master Use Permit approval or the cost of purchasing the section of Occidental.

The significant investment in the Arena and related projects we have offered, reflects our local investment group’s strong commitment to our City and region. We look forward to working with the City Council as they once again take-up the proposed street vacation. Approving the conditional street vacation makes the SODO Arena shovel-ready and sends a strong message to the NBA and NHL that Seattle is ready and eager for teams.

Wally Walker is part of the investment group that includes Chris Hansen, Russell Wilson, Erik Nordstrom and Pete Nordstrom

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