June 11, 2017

Just to give you an idea....

(Click on the picture to make it bigger.)

This is what it looks like to have an ice rink in the Tacoma Dome. I think this is for an international exhibition game - probably the Goodwill Games in 1990. The ice is a bit bigger than normal for a regular rink in there. Also, the rubber walkways going back around behind the bleachers are missing, so they must've just had them at one end of the rink for both teams.

And I say that, because the regular seating wouldn't have gone all the way to rinkside. For a normal NHL-sized rink, they used to have two rows right on the glass, then a walkway on the concrete, then the regular bleachers. And they'd also have smaller seating sections at both ends of the rink that are right up on the glass as well.

I was sitting in one of those end sections once, and had two different pucks hit off the back of my seat in one game. I saw them coming so I casually leaned to one side, otherwise, they would've both hit me. This was before they put up the protective netting that's in the ends of most rinks now.

Needless to say, the players started shooting much lower the rest of that game.

Anyways, this is what everyone gets to look forward to after Seattle gets awarded an NHL team. Not just the huge empty space, but also the horrible sightlines. Like I've said, it's a lot like watching one of those outdoor games, just inside.

June 8, 2017

Location, location, location

So...the Tacoma Dome.

If KeyArena's going to be in some form of demolition or construction, then an NHL expansion team is going to have to play somewhere, right? There aren't many options, and each has its flaws. Basically, they're going to have to choose between number of seats or accommodations, because they won't be able to do both.

ShoWare Center in Kent, Washington, is the smallest choice of the lot, seating just 6500 for hockey. This is where the WHL Seattle Thunderbirds play. It opened in 2009, so it's the newest arena of the lot.

Xfinity Arena in Everett, Washington, has potential but it's still just too small - even for a temporary NHL home. It seats 8149 for hockey, and is the home of the WHL Everett Silvertips. It opened in 2003.

The Tacoma Dome is really the only choice, so far as the number of seats is concerned. I think for hockey, it seats around 21,000. There are no numbers for that, however, since there hasn't been any sort of hockey team in Tacoma since 2002, and the last NHL exhibition game that was played there was in 1996, from what I can find.

The problems with the Tacoma Dome are many. One, it's just one big open space with a bare concrete floor under a wood dome. Literally. It's a serious hike from the dressing rooms to the ice when it's all set up.

So no luxury boxes - no boxes at all, actually - and not much in way of concessions, either. I'm not even sure where the press box is in that building, since the last time I saw hockey there I wasn't all that interested in that sort of thing. But it's probably really, really far away from the ice.

Because of that, the seating can be arranged in any way they like. However, there has never been hockey-specific seating - they usually have football or basketball in there, so the seating is at a very shallow angle. To put it plainly, the sight lines seriously suck for the fans, pretty much no matter where you sit.

It's sort of like watching hockey in a football stadium - like one of those outdoor games - only it's smaller and indoors.

And I don't even know the last time the building had any updates done to it anywhere. Could be that the locker rooms are exactly as they have been since 1983 (when it was built), for all I know. The City of Tacoma, which owns the building, approved of a 2-year $21 million renovation last fall. But I'm not sure when that's supposed to start...or finish.

As for practice rinks, they'd probably end up at the rink I used to play hockey at on the Tacoma Tideflats. It's nothing fancy, but it's close. Otherwise, they'd have to go out to Parkland (which is south of Tacoma, in the opposite direction of Seattle) or up to Kent.

The other issue is logistics for the team itself. SeaTac Airport is actually in the middle between Seattle and Tacoma - hence the name "SeaTac", so that's not really the issue. Although, they'd probably charter out of Boeing Field once they move to Seattle after KeyArena is done and likely renamed. But that's not what I'm talking about.

You see, Tacoma's way cheaper to live in than Seattle is - by far. It's smaller and a bit more laid back, too. So people with families would love Tacoma, but the commute to and from Seattle would kill any reasonable person. It's only 34 miles from downtown to downtown, but it's an awful commute at just about any time of day.

What I'm getting at is for a team to set up shop in Tacoma, they'd have to pick up and move that shop to Seattle, at some point. That means relocating employees and players, which is not going to be a fun time for anyone. Especially not when it's getting difficult - and expensive - to get a house in Seattle right now. In like five years, it'll probably be impossible.

I'm not so worried about the fans coming to Tacoma for hockey. They already come down for concerts, so they've mostly got that figured out. There's a train station about half a mile from the Tacoma Dome, so people from Seattle will just take that.

Most expansion teams suck for the first 10-15 years, anyways, so after the initial three-year period of excitement, the crowds will naturally shrink because of that. But they'll probably move into their new home around then, so that will help maintain interest. For a little while, at least. Expansion teams have it rough for a long while, for the most part.

But traffic there isn't like traffic anywhere else. Where there's stop and go traffic on the freeways in other places, it's a literal parking lot there. You. Don't. Move. I know, because I've been in it. Your typical 15-minute commute just isn't going to take 15 minutes there, no matter how you slice it. And those kinds of logistics - to and from Seattle from Tacoma - is what's going to screw people who aren't familiar with the area up.

June 7, 2017

Don't try to make sense of the politics - just know that it'll almost certainly happen

Producer Jerry Bruckheimer, Celtics minority owner David Bonderman to join KeyArena renovation group
The addition of Bonderman and Bruckheimer, to be announced at a news conference at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday at KeyArena, provides the strongest signal yet that OVG intends to bring an NHL team to Seattle near-term and an NBA team further down the road. Bonderman has been a minority owner of the Boston Celtics for more than a decade, and Bruckheimer is a close acquaintance of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and has long expressed a desire to become a franchise owner.
So let me explain why this KeyArena deal will work over the SoDo arena proposal.

First off, KeyArena is owned outright by the City of Seattle, while the SoDo Arena would've been a three-way joint venture between Seattle, King County, and the ownership group. This is the biggie, really. Not because they wouldn't have gotten money off of the SoDo Arena, but because KeyArena would've become a white elephant for them. Seattle's first choice has always been to renovate KeyArena, but there were never any takers - and they certainly didn't want to pay for it - which is how the SoDo Arena turned into a thing.

And a lot of this is also a popularity contest. Seattle's had two mayors in a row who wanted to be "the guy" who brought back an NBA team. This is about egos, people, not money. The best way one of them can live forever in the history of Seattle is to become the guy who resurrects the SuperSonics.

Mayor Michael McGinn kicked this whole thing off with trying to get an arena built in SoDo, just south of Safeco Field. He was unsuccessful, mostly because the Port of Seattle sabotaged his efforts. So current mayor, Ed Murray, is trying to do the same. He just happened to have gotten lucky, and some group of investors offered the revamp of KeyArena to him on a silver platter.

It's much easier - and cost effective for the city, in the long run - to gut KeyArena for a second time than it is to build another arena elsewhere. Not only will they have a revitalized Seattle Center, but they'll also not have an outdated building that will become less relevant over time sitting on their hands.

Mayor Murray is desperately trying to push this KeyArena deal through, because his term is almost up and his re-election looms. At this point, he doesn't really care if it's SoDo or the Seattle Center. All he really cares about is that it gets done before election time.

The KeyArena option is easy, convenient, and it works out way better for the city than having an arena in SoDo would have. Which is why this will likely happen. It's what the city has wanted for years, so they're not going to turn it down. And when the time comes to vote on the street vacation (street closure) for the SoDo Arena, the city council will likely turn them down again because of their preference for KeyArena.

The things that are going to slow this down, however, are:

The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). I took a class in college about how to specifically write one of these, and let me tell you, they can drag on forever. Not to mention the fact that they tend to get people riled up as you're trying to get the information that you need. They can't break a window to start tearing things down unless they have one of these, and it's required by state law. Doesn't matter what the City of Seattle has to say about it; it's a necessary evil that can take a year or more to complete. And it has to be completed before they even know if they can do it or not.

The non-profit group, Historic Seattle. While KeyArena isn't on the National Historic Register, it is eligible to be, as it's over 50 years old. Because of this, the building's renovation must conform to the laws and regulations as if it were on the National Historic Register. And Historic Seattle will try to ensure that. Which means, the plans for reconstruction need include a way to maintain the integrity of the structure so that it basically appears as it has for the past 57 years, and counting.

The Lower Queen Anne and South Lake Union neighborhoods. Have you seen how much Washington State has been sticking it to the current presidential administration over a number of laws? This is not a state-level thing, but a local thing. Everyone in the state has a strong sense of propriety, and most are not afraid to do something about it, if necessary. It's at its worst within the Seattle city limits, and the people in those neighborhoods are not going to like the additional traffic for sporting events. They could make city hall's lives miserable over thing - and they probably will.

The Duwamish could probably make a stink about this, if they wanted. I wouldn't expect them to, but you never know. They're not a federally recognized tribe - they got lumped in with the Suquamish, because Chief Si'ahl (or Sealth, or Seattle), but that's another story for another time. The entirety of Seattle are the ancestral lands of the Duwamish, and they'll be consulted about this because of federal and state law.

Also, the group that was going to build the SoDo Arena could sue - for a variety of reasons. Not sure that they will, but I also wouldn't put it past them. Litigation could drag things along for a while as well.

So unless an EIS is already in the works, and it has been for a while, getting to the point where they can start tearing things down is going to take a while. Then again, there's no requirement that an EIS has to be a well-written document. I've seen some truly awful EISs and Environmental Assessments (EAs), and getting by with the bare minimum might be what they do. They could be more easily sued for that, but that'll be after the fact.

I also wouldn't be surprised if they flat-out ignored the residents of the Lower Queen Anne and South Lake Union neighborhoods. I mean, they already are ignoring the complaints that it could happen, so why start caring now? Oh, they'd likely go through the motions to make it look good, eventually, but that's all it'd be.

The Mayor wants this done yesterday, so he'll probably cut all kinds of corners just to get it started as soon as physically possible. He won't skimp on the facility itself, just on all of the paperwork to get it done. And I'm sure the city council will let him, too, because it'll make them look great to the voters as well.

So breaking ground / tearing down in spring of 2019? At this point, you can practically guarantee it. Now it's really just a matter of when NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and the owners will graciously allow a team to be put there.

And then, in the meantime, there's the Tacoma Dome....