Seattle Council member worries arena deal could set bad precedent

Jul 18, 2012

More questions are being asked about the proposal for a new arena in Seattle to lure back the NBA. A public hearing on the deal takes place Thursday evening and Seattle’s City Hall is expected to be packed with people giving testimony for and against it.

How Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn sees the funding issue.
How Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn sees the funding issue.

When the proposal for a new arena was first announced in February, huge excitement surrounded the deal. Hedge fund manager Chris Hansen wants to build a $500 million dollar facility, with private equity paying for more than half of the deal – and allegedly no risk to taxpayers.

The city and county would just need to issue bonds to finance up to $200 million dollars for the land south of Safeco Field, with new tax revenues paying back that debt.

NBA fans rejoiced at the idea that the new public stadium could bring a team like the Sonics back to Seattle and possibly lure in a hockey franchise as well.

But skeptics have emerged. Chief among them is Seattle City Council member Richard Conlin. He says the deal sets a bad precedent.

“Every other business that comes to town, they establish a business, they pay those taxes, those taxes go into our general fund to support police and parks and fire and the other things that we do.”

Conlin fears Hansen's arena deal could lead to all kinds of other investors making special demands.

“I don’t want to put us in the position of having other businesses come in and say, look, you gave this break to those people, why don’t you use the taxes that we’re generating to do something for us?”

He says the city already has one arena they're struggling to keep alive and he doesn't believe there's justification for using public funds to support another. He thinks a new arena could be financed with private funds.

Other concerns that have emerged include:

  • Impacts of traffic from a new arena -- and fears that it could hurt the local economy by slowing down port operations on game days – and the lack of money in the proposal for proposed mitigation measures
  • Environmental review – some critics say there should be a comprehensive environmental impact statement before the city and county sign off on the deal, rather than after
  • Economic – King County Council member Bob Ferguson has called for a thorough and independent economic analysis of the deal before it’s approved

Thursday evening’s joint hearing before the city and county council may be the last chance for the public to speak out. A decision on the arena proposal is expected in August.