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King County Council adopts amended SODO arena plan

The Metropolitan King County Council today gave its unanimous approval to the final memorandum of understanding (MOU) and interlocal agreement (ILA) that will govern the role of the County, the city of Seattle and ArenaCo—the company representing arena investor Chris Hansen—in a proposed arena in Seattle’s SODO district.

Today’s vote, along with the adoption of the same MOU and ILA by the Seattle City Council, means that the first step of the needed legislative action for a possible return of National Basketball Association and National Hockey League teams to Seattle is complete.

“While we still have a long way to go, this is is the most significant step the region has made to bring back the NBA since 2008,” said Council Chair Larry Gossett. “We have come this far because of the diligence of not only Chris Hansen, but also Executive Constantine, Mayor McGinn, both councils and the legion of fans who are working to return the Sonics.”

“I am proud of the excellent work my County Council colleagues have accomplished on this proposal,” said Councilmember Joe McDermott who sponsored the legislation. “The return of the Seattle Supersonics would enrich our region. I am pleased we are moving forward.”

“There are many miles to go and promises to keep,” said Council Vice Chair Jane Hague. “This begins the process of measuring environmental, economic and transportation impacts on not only the SODO site but other sites that also may emerge.”

Today’s vote is the conclusion of the first stage of a process that began in February when Hansen presented to King County and the city of Seattle a proposal to construct a new arena in Seattle’s Stadium District with the ability to host NBA and NHL teams. After negotiations between Hansen, County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, a proposed agreement was announced in May, outlining King County’s role in the proposed arena project.

“Both King County and the City of Seattle have worked hard to ensure that key economic and environmental issues will be addressed and that economic and social benefits will be maximized,” said Councilmember Julia Patterson. “These will continue to be priorities during the next steps of this process.”

“This agreement supports the private property rights of an investor who is contributing hundreds of millions of dollars to an economic development opportunity for the entire region,” said Councilmember Kathy Lambert. “This public-private partnership is an opportunity for bringing the Supersonics back to Seattle, as well as attracting a professional hockey team. By leveraging King County’s bonding authority, backed by revenue from events at the arena, this would give the county and the City of Seattle a new asset once the construction cost is paid off, bolster our economy and generate many jobs for our region.”

“I am pleased that the final MOU includes my proposed economic impact analysis to provide us with independent information on the arena’s impact on jobs and the economy,” said Councilmember Bob Ferguson. “My brothers took me to Sonics games as a kid, and I look forward the opportunity to take my young twins to their first game someday.”

On July 30, the County Council agreed to an amended MOU and ILA. The Seattle City Council amended that agreement on September 24. Over the last three weeks, a workgroup consisting of members from the County, City and ArenaCo have discussed the financial components of the final proposal adopted today by both Councils.

“This agreement puts the ball in play for Sonics basketball to return to our region while further protecting county taxpayers and the family wage jobs generated by the Port of Seattle and SODO industrial district,” said Councilmember Larry Phillips, Chair of the Transportation, Economy, and Environment Committee. “Much work lies ahead, including deciding whether to move forward after thorough environmental and economic review, but I thank Chris Hansen, leaders on the city council, and all those who have had a hand in bringing this proposal forward and shaping it for the better.”

“I was optimistic from the outset that we could all work together to come up with an agreement that would be supported by all parties,” said Councilmember Reagan Dunn. “Should an arena ultimately be built in the SODO neighborhood, the inclusion of the SODO Transportation fund in this agreement places a much needed emphasis on protecting freight mobility. In addition to the increased financial protections for the taxpayers, I believe this is a much stronger agreement, since amended and it will help to accelerate the return of the NBA to our region.”

“This vote allows for the MOU to move forward so we can understand the proposal’s impact on the region,” said Councilmember Pete von Reichbauer. “The environmental and economic reviews will be rigorous and complete and may consider other locations including the Seattle Center and Bellevue in an effort to make certain we are locating the arena in the best possible location. If the process is fair and complete, then there will be broad support for the conclusions that are reached.”

The components of the Council’s July 30 agreement – which clarified that the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) review would include consideration of reasonable alternatives, required an independent economic impact analysis, and required the NBA team to go beyond the NBA’s requirements for providing affordable tickets – remain in place. The final adopted agreement reflects the plan adopted by the Seattle City Council September 24 as well as amendments by both Councils:

-- There will still be an independent economic impact analysis, but that study will be managed by the City and County, with ArenaCo required to reimburse the cost of the analysis to the two governments.

-- The County Council’s July agreement required ArenaCo to participate in providing pedestrian access to the facility from the International District Station and Stadium Station light rail stops adjacent to the arena. The City Council’s agreement created a SODO Transportation Infrastructure Fund, to assist in the mitigation of transportation challenges around the facility.

-- The final agreement maintains the County’s $80 million financial contribution to the facility if it is home to both an NBA and NHL franchise, but increases the County’s financial contribution if only an NBA franchise will play at the arena to up to $15 million.

An amendment by the County Council to the final agreement also clarifies that the SODO Infrastructure Fund will give priority to projects protecting Port of Seattle operations and freight mobility, including projects that improve pedestrian access, transit service and overall traffic management in the SODO neighborhood. The amendment also called for SODO projects to compete through Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) or other applicable processes, while stating the Council’s intent that projects supported by the fund will not be penalized in competing for federal or state funds around the arena.

Future action will be taken by both Councils after completion of the SEPA and economic review to determine whether to approve the transactional documents to commit public financing.

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