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 Not only will they have a revitalized Seattle Center, but they'll also not have an outdated building that will become less relevant over time sitting on their hands.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....

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