Thursday, May 9, 2013

Sonics fans, it’s time to give your heart a break - Seattle Times Newspaper

Sharon Pian Chan,
I'm not inclined to respond to every editorial based on sandbagging the arena EIS process and SoDo site. Who has time for so many from the Times?

Your imaginings of what the EIS "might" say are not ripe for argument. 
Also, you clearly didn't include that Charlie Royer has already lined up to suck bonding capacity from future levy requests for the waterfront boondoggle. 
Your editorial is speculative at best and fails to recognize the greater political context when it comes to anticipated levy requests. 

About the Seattle Center site, you might want to talk to the current and the past chairs of Seattle Center at the city council to get a grasp at just how politically dead the idea of doing something really big at the Seattle Center is.
While you are getting a grasp of that, go ahead and figure out how the city has managed Seattle Center to a state where it had to borrow $3.5 million dollars last year to make up revenue from non-profits not paying their bills.
That's not on Robert Nellams, that's on the Center Foundation and elected officials policy of not having anything close to an I-91 financial revue to see if non-profits can pay their sharply reduced rates. They are exempt from I-91, and it shows.

It is a bit absurd, and telling, for Mr. Nellams to state that Seattle Center would have to compete as hard, as, say privately available property in the Stadium District. He knows better than that and has testified as much last year to the city council.

So, before anybody starts imagineering something bigger for Seattle Center they would have to demolish the political construct that wasn't attractive to somebody that already looked at the site and chose a different location, somebody looking to relocate a half-billion dollar business to Seattle from out of state.

Having watched the "what about Seattle Center" dance for nearly a decade i have concluded, before Chris Hansen came along, that we've loved Seattle Center to death, sucked the fun out of it for local families when the Fun Forrest left, and hemmed it in with new condo owners already complaining about their own traffic and the bright lights of signage.
It should be renamed the Seattle Complaint Center, where everybody gets to rant about the good old days at Crosscut.com while ignoring how it has arrived in its current condition.
Shall we study it for another decade and still not have the political will to fully fund a major makeover?

Seattle Center has built in political issues that dwarf anything coming out of the Port on the SoDo location. Queen Anne residents need green space for their dogs to poop on, walk around familiar strangers while chatting with friends on their smart phones, and the pleasant memories of what used to be. And, outdoor signage, they're not really into advertising where people outside of an arena could actually see it. All hurdles that have remained too high for city government to get over in the past.

Doing something bigger than a glass ashtray shop is not within the political bandwidth of city government.

If all the money were even today, would the political foot dragging at Seattle Center push a major construction project into a financially disadvantaged state?
Make yourself useful and answer that when the EIS comes out.

Have a great day,
Mike Baker
Seattle, Wa

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Sonics fans, it's time to give your heart a break

Let me give your heart a break, Sonics fans. To quote songstress Demi Lovato, there's just so much you can take.

The NBA Board of Governors appears likely to turn down Chris Hansen's proposal to move the Sacramento Kings to Seattle after a relocation committee rejected the idea.

I want The Squatch back, and I have faith that Seattle will eventually get a basketball team here. But to be honest, I'm grateful for the reprieve from barreling toward building an arena in Sodo.

Watching the city chase after a Sodo arena has been as depressing as the first half of a romantic comedy. That's the part where our awesome heroine is in love with the guy who is clearly wrong for her. He suggests she needs to lose a few pounds. He pours soy sauce all over her mom's cooking. Her dog doesn't like him.

Meanwhile, our heroine is totally overlooking the funny friend played by Steve Carell. The shy, awkward guy with a heart of gold in this movie? It's Seattle Center.

The Center has been The One all along. It just needs a makeover by Ryan Gosling. (If these references are confusing, download the movie "Crazy Stupid Love" ASAP.)

Seattle Center is 74 acres in the heart of the city, owned by the city. It is the No. 1 visitor destination in the state, with 12 million visitors annually. It's more than just a gathering place. It's what the National Mall is to Washington, D.C.

Between 1990 and 2006, $760 million was invested in the Center, $460 million of which came from private sources. And then ... the gush turned into droplets. The Armory, for instance, took $4 million and nicely modernized the Center House.

"You've invested hundreds of millions ... ," said Robert Nellams, Seattle Center director. "I didn't know we would have to make a much more difficult or in-depth argument for why you would want to continue to maintain something here."

Consider other massive investments flowing toward Seattle Center. The city is investing $259 million in renovating Mercer Street, and another $3.1 billion for the viaduct that will transform the east side of the Center. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation built its global headquarters next door and Vulcan has redeveloped South Lake Union a few blocks away.

For too long, the city thought too small about Seattle Center.

Let's dream big. Let's imagine an elementary school at the Center to serve the 3,000 kids living downtown. How about an international-design competition to remake Seattle Center?

Renovating KeyArena at Seattle Center is not an option, arena investor Hansen said in a Wednesday phone interview. "We cannot tear down KeyArena and play in it at the same time," he said. "Our deal with the city cannot work unless we have an NBA arena to play in, because neither the city nor us is going to build an arena on spec."

The answer is to build a new arena where Memorial Stadium stands now. The stadium owner, Seattle Schools, is negotiating with Seattle Center to buy it.

I'm against publicly financing the Sodo arena as in the current proposal, which calls for the city to put up $200 million in public bonds for construction. But I am personally open to publicly financing an arena that benefits the greater good of Seattle Center. All property owners are probably going to pay for a Seattle Center renovation anyway, because the city will likely put a levy on the ballot in a few years.

There are still other factors for Hansen. "We felt the cost of building the arena would be much cheaper and easier in Sodo," he said, "and as the private developer sponsoring the project, that's our decision to make." True, that.

It was the city's decision to say yes or no. If this city had made Seattle Center the priority, it would have said no to Sodo and devised a financially attractive option at Seattle Center.

It still can. Perhaps the environmental-impact study on the arena proposal will call for mitigation that makes Sodo less financially attractive as an arena site. The study could even name the Center the preferred site.

A newly elected mayor could begin his or her term by putting together a proposal to sell the Memorial Stadium site to Hansen's investment group at a price that accounts for his real-estate purchase in Sodo and the higher cost of construction in Seattle Center. Hansen seems reasonable enough to consider it seriously.

The Center is The One. It's been here all along. Let's commit and live happily ever after.

Sharon Pian Chan's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. Her email address is schan@seattletimes.com On Twitter @sharonpianchan

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