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By Nancy Amdur

A proposed sports arena for Seattle cleared two significant hurdles this month, gaining unanimous approval for the project from both the city’s design review board and the design commission.

The approvals allow architecture firm HOK to finalize permit drawings for the planned basketball and hockey arena in advance of a likely vote by City Council later this year, which could entitle the project to be built, said Anton Foss, the HOK principal in charge of the project, who also is the managing principal of the firm’s San Francisco and Seattle offices.

However, plans for the 702,000-square-foot, 18,000- to 20,000-seat arena in the city’s SoDo neighborhood would still be on hold even with entitlements as the project hinges on whether the city secures a National Basketball Association team that would call the arena home.

“The timeline is dependent on being awarded a team,” Foss said. “Right now, we’re going to finish up these entitlements and then wait. The impetus [to start building] would be a team coming to Seattle.”

The majority of the $490 million Seattle Arena project, to be built at 1700 First Ave. S., is being financed by investor Chris Hansen, who has said he hopes the arena would help lure an NBA team back to Seattle. Hansen’s real estate company, WSA Properties, owns the proposed arena site. The city’s former team, the Seattle SuperSonics, moved and became the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2008.

Plans for the arena have been under way for about three years. Recent design changes include the addition of a wastewater treatment system called the “living machine” that would be located in the arena’s 31,800-square-foot public plaza. The living machine would treat almost all of the arena’s wastewater for toilet flushing and irrigation use. The system would be below ground and “the only thing you’ll see from the plaza is gardens,” Foss said. The plaza also will offer seating and event space.

Another design addition was an 800-foot long pedestrian bridge on South Holgate Street that would allow arena visitors to safely cross railroad tracks that border the east side of the site, Foss said.

Also on the arena site would be an approximately 73,000-square-foot training facility and 68,000 square feet of parking.

The Port of Seattle has raised concerns about the project’s potential impact on traffic around the arena. The port uses the area as a thoroughfare for trucks that service its terminals.

“Our biggest concerns are safety and [freight] mobility, because we have very big trucks,” said Susan Stoltzfus, a port spokeswoman. The port already works with the nearby professional baseball and football arenas, Safeco Field and CenturyLink, to keep traffic flowing. “It’s a challenge now and we see it getting worse” with the additional arena, she said.

If the impact of increased traffic in the area is not addressed, it could “have the unintended impact of putting our freight system into chaos,” Stoltzfus added.

Foss said the arena would be part of what is now a designated arena overlay district and the city’s review of the project has shown that the impact of the new arena would be “minimal.”

The design commission’s approval last week included allowing a street vacation that would eliminate Occidental Avenue South between South Holgate and South Massachusetts streets to allow for a big enough parcel for the project, Foss said. City Council also will vote on that issue for a final decision. If the street closure is approved, the Department of Planning and Development is expected to decide on the proposal early next year.

Part of the guidance from the city’s design review board was that the arena should fit into the context of that area of the city—which is an industrial neighborhood—and also create a landmark building for Seattle. Keeping that in mind, HOK designed the performance space with a seating bowl “inspired by blades of a turbine,” harkening back to Seattle’s aeronautic history, Foss said. The blades are bright orange metal and rise above the smaller portions of the building and can be seen from outside, which is mostly clear glass. The metal-and-glass building also has an industrial feel and will fit into the scale of buildings around it, he said.

SoDo is located south of Pioneer Square and the Chinatown-International District. Also in the district are the headquarters of Starbucks, art galleries and lofts.

Rendering courtesy of HOK