In what was likely one of the last hurdles to approve a proposed multi-purpose sports arena in the city’s SoDo neighborhood, the City Council voted yesterday to not permit clearing of one block of Occidental Avenue that would allow the project to proceed. The street vacation did not pass, five of nine members voted against it.
The site is bounded by First Avenue South to the west, South Holgate Street to the south, South Massachusetts Street on the north, and the BNSF Railway right-of-way to the east. The proposal by the developer requested the closure of Occidental Avenue South between South Massachusetts Street and South Holgate Street.
“I remain committed to exploring all options to bring the NBA and NHL, not just to our region but to a new arena in the City of Seattle.” – Mayor Murray
The decision was made due to a concern that vacating this particular street would affect workers and trucks traveling to the nearby marina, creating a significant amount of difficulty to maneuver around the closed block. Opponents of the street vacation argued that it could ultimately lead to workers losing their jobs, which could potentially affect production of the marina and Seattle’s fishing industry.
At one point during the meeting, it was suggested that the old Sonics arena be repurposed in order to facilitate both of Seattle’s future NBA and NHL teams. KeyArena is located north of downtown, on Harrison Street, in a 74-acre entertainment complex known as Seattle Center, the site of the 1962 World’s Fair. However, during the city approval process, an Environmental Impact Statement stated that traffic would cause a greater problem at this location than in SoDo.
“When I talk to people on both sides of this decision there’s obviously an interest in KeyArena,” said Council member Rob Johnson. “But I don’t see it as being a viable solution since no investors have expressed an interest.”
Johnson went on to say that it all comes down to the underlying land-use decisions. As the city’s planning, land-use and zoning committee chair, he believes it is important for Seattle to maintain infrastructure for industrial zoning. In order to do so, Seattle needs to continue to maintain prioritization for industrial lands to ensure that manufacturing stays strong. Johnson says this is what has kept the city going economically through the boom and bust cycle over the last several decades. But the bottom line, he says, is that the proposed site is not in an industrial zone, it is in a stadium district.
Earlier today, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray released a statement about yesterday’s vote. “I firmly believe that a new arena will be built that brings the NBA and NHL to our region,” he said. “The City’s past actions contributed to the Sonics leaving Seattle. Council vote makes it less likely that the NBA will return to the City of Seattle. I remain committed to exploring all options to bring the NBA and NHL, not just to our region but to a new arena in the City of Seattle.”
Chris Hansen, the founder of San Francisco-based Valiant Capital Management, also released a statement on behalf of the arena investment group. “The city council vote was disappointing, but we don’t believe it is the end of the road in our quest to bring the NBA and NHL back to Seattle,” he said. “We know all the fans who have stood solidly by us these past years share our disappointment, but it is important that we all stay focused on our shared goal.”
Those in city council who voted for the street vacation were council president Bruce Harrell, and members Tim Burgess, Rob Johnson and Mike O’Brien. Those who voted against it were Sally Bagshaw, Debora Juarez, Lorena González, Kshama Sawant and Lisa Herbold. The next step is finding a new location for the proposed arena, however, there is currently no timeline for how long the process will take.