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King County Council says yes to new $490 million sports arena, Seattle wants more discussion
The new arena that could bring the Seattle SuperSonics back to town jumped over one hurdle Monday afternoon. The Metropolitan King County Council gave its approval to an amended memorandum of understanding (MOU) and interlocal agreement (ILA) that will govern the county's role in a proposed arena in Seattle’s SODO district.
The vote is the first step in the possible return of National Basketball Association to Seattle, as well as a potential National Hockey League franchise.
“I’m excited by the prospect of bringing back our beloved Seattle SuperSonics. But we can’t legislate on that alone,” said Councilmember Joe McDermott, who chairs the Council’s Budget and Fiscal Management Committee. “That’s why we undertook a thorough and careful review of the arena proposal."
In February, private investor Chris Hansen presented to King County, as well as the city of Seattle, a proposal to construct a new $490 million arena with $200 million in public funding 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.
The adopted MOU caps the County’s financial contribution at $80 million if the facility is home to both an NBA and NHL franchise. If only an NBA franchise is located in the arena, the County’s financial contribution tops out at $5 million.
Monday's vote came after County councilmembers heard over two hours of testimony from more than 60 speakers voicing their support and opposition to the plan. This was the second Council meeting in which the public had the opportunity to testify. On July 19, the County Council joined the Seattle City Council for a special joint meeting to hear public comment on the proposed arena.
“It is time to get started. This does not presuppose the final outcome, nor other mid-step votes but this is a great opening salvo,” said Council Vice Chair Jane Hague.
The King County Council is the first legislative body to act on the arena proposal. The Seattle City Council must also adopt the MOU and ILA for the project to proceed.
Seattle failed to vote on the arena proposal at its meeting Monday. Instead, they drafted a letter to Hansen saying the city must get a share of the projected arena tax revenue as well as as additional financial guarantees before it can agree to build a new arena in Sodo.
The council's letter to Hansen said the current proposal, which would direct 100 percent of tax revenues generated by the new arena to pay off public bonds, does not "represent an appropriate balance of public and private benefits."
The letter notes that, with a share of the tax revenue, the city could leverage more transportation funding from the state and federal governments to build improvements that the city already has identified to protect freight corridors and ease congestion in Sodo.
“In order to move forward, we will need to arrive at a more equitable arrangement,” it says and also states that the council “appreciate your willingness to significantly invest in our city and, like you, we look forward to the return of the SuperSonics.”
At a news conference Monday, Seattle council members said they were confident that a compromise would be struck with Hansen, perhaps within the week.
“We’re saying we want to get to yes. I think we can work out these details,” said Councilmember Tim Burgess.
The letter concludes, “If these issues can be resolved, we are prepared to quickly move forward a legislative package that is more financially balanced and strengthens protections for the City and its residents.”