Seattle council rejects closing street for SoDo arena by single vote, madness ensues

The Seattle city council met last night to vote on approving the final piece of Chris Hansen’s SoDo arena plan that was initially okayed by the council way back in 2012, and — whoa, didn’t see that coming:

Stunned gasps emerged from a crowd at Seattle City Hall on Monday as Councilmember M. Lorena González cast a decisive vote that could effectively torpedo a proposed Sodo District arena.

In a 5-4 decision, the Seattle City Council voted against giving up part of Occidental Avenue South to entrepreneur Chris Hansen for his arena. Though a Memorandum of Understanding between Hansen, the city and King County runs through November 2017, odds of a new deal being struck by then seem remote.

What the heck happened? Lobbying from the Port of Seattle, certainly — the councilmembers who voted to keep the street open all name-checked port workers in their speeches, including Kshama Sawant declaring, “I do want to help bring back the Sonics, but I cannot do that on the basis of undermining our working waterfront and good-paying unionized industrial jobs.’’ (She also called the Port a “cesspool of corruption” but said she was voting out of solidarity with Port workers who are “trying to stand up against these forces of gentrification.” Now I really need to hear this speech.) But with five women on the council voting no while all four men voted yes, there may have been something else at work as well: The Seattle Times’ Geoff Baker cited one source (unnamed, take with grain of salt — Geoff, try to ID your sources better in the future, please) as saying “the three female council members who were undecided had become increasingly put off in recent days by the personal attacks [councilmember Sally] Bagshaw was taking from male sports fans on social media and certain talk-show hosts on Sports Radio KJR.”

Regardless of whether it was insider lobbying, obnoxious talk-radio hosts, or both, the Hansen plan is now, if not dead, floating listlessly in limbo, with no way to clear space for the arena that had its funding approved four years ago. Bagshaw says she hopes the city will now conduct a cost-benefit analysis of renovating Key Arena instead; Hansen released a statement saying, “We now need to take a little time to step back and evaluate our options.” There will likely be renewed talk of a new arena in the suburbs, though the leading candidate there, in Tukwila, still lacks anyone to actually pay for it.

In any case, if this is indeed the end of the SoDo arena saga, it’s a darn weird one. It certainly didn’t help Hansen’s case that he was no closer to getting an NBA team than when he started this whole quixotic battle years ago — “If you let me build an arena I’ll bring the Sonics back someday maybe I can’t say when” was never the best rallying cry — but still, you can count the number of sports venue projects that got right up to the finish line before being voted down by a single vote on … actually, this is the first I can think of. Whoever’s writing reality’s plot twists, you need to make them more believable, even if it is sweeps month.

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28 comments on “Seattle council rejects closing street for SoDo arena by single vote, madness ensues

  1. Wow. Didn’t see that one coming.

    When I was in high school I voted for the far less appealing Student Body President candidate simply because he was a man. His opponent and I remain close friends and she’s been a successful horticulturalist for many years now. The person I voted for knocked up his Senior squeeze, withdrew his application to the lower division Wisconsin state school he applied to and now works as a custodian for a neighboring school district. I’ve long regretted my vote, but stories like this make me wonder.

  2. I’m not surprised by this at all. Sonic fans on social media are a bunch of lunatics, something I can attest to as a Kings fan who followed them during the Sacramento fiasco.

    1. That may be true, but Sacramento taxpayers are on the hook for $273M for their arena boondoggle whereas Seattle isn’t. Sometimes you win by losing.

  3. I know this makes me a bad person, but I’ve been enjoying the hell out of the rending of garments and gnashing of teeth on the SBN Sonics board.

    1. I actually went and found the SBN Sonics board which seems to have more activity than some actual SBN Nation boards of actual teams.

      I’m actually sort of impressed.


    Now everyone can enjoy re-watching the council speech-ifying before casting their vote. The vote starts at 1h 12m, unless you want to watch the lead up including how the council is sending to the voters a measure on low income housing and how they’re reworking public comment rules to better handle the few yahoos who show up to every meeting to talk about Nazi fascism, BLM, etc.

    1:42 is where the council speeches start. Sawant’s was at 1:59

  5. Arenas don’t belong stuck out in the suburbs. They belong in or near city centers.

  6. I know this makes me a bad person, but I’ve been enjoying the hell out of the rending of garments and gnashing of teeth on the SBN Sonics board.

    It’s been fun reading all the comments at sonicsrising. Just a few years ago they were making fun of Sacramento fans and calling us delusional (whales have been spotted in Sacramento tonight ha ha giggle giggle), well the shoe is on the other foot now and I bet it doesn’t feel so good. ;) I have a feeling this is all karma for supporting that slimball Hansen.

    1. That arena’s going to look great on TV. Too bad about all the red-ink it’s going to generate, though.

    2. What shoe on what foot? The city of Sacramento and their former NBA-player mayor opened the public vaults to the NBA. Seattle didn’t. Sacramento is my home town and most people I still know there root for Seattle to get their own team back now that the Kings are secured. And Hansen a slime ball? I’d take him over Kevin Johnson any day.

  7. I have a feeling this is all karma for supporting that slimball Hansen.

    Probably not, since the karma wrought for supporting an infinitely greater slimeball like Kevin Johnson would have to be far worse, wouldn’t it?

  8. Almost as good as the speeches was this headline and article that i spotted next to the council vote one:

    “New Mariners CEO calls potential Sodo arena ‘big, ugly house right at the end of your driveway’”

    “Incoming Mariners CEO John Stanton and outgoing Howard Lincoln reiterated Wednesday the team isn’t opposed to having the NBA or NHL come to Seattle. They just don’t want either playing in the Sodo District right next to their Safeco Field parking garage.

    ‘If you own a house and somebody wants to build a big, ugly house right at the end of your driveway — that frankly, blocks your driveway — you’ve got a right to express an opinion,’ Stanton said. ‘And I think it’s fair to express that opinion. And the notion that somehow, because we express that opinion, that it means we’re against the NBA is absurd. It’s absolutely absurd.’

    First time I think i’ve heard of a NIMBY sports owner. I wonder if they complained about the big white elephant on the north side of them too.

    1. Wasn’t Stanton part of the squad assembled by Steve Ballmer in a failed bid to buy the Sonics back from Bennett and co?

      Either way, this just goes to show you that our local sports teams aren’t best friends. Never have been, never will be. All those tweets between teams that express “support” when one of them is doing well is just for appearances. They’re secretly hoping that the other teams stink up a storm and descend into irrelevance in their respective leagues.

      1. They also want to save that space for Safeco’s replacement in a few years, building part of it on Safeco’s footprint. haha

        1. The narrowest point E-W on the South end is 397 ft wide, even with a street vacation. N-S you’ve got about 700 ft. The site would probably make Fenway look roomy.

 pg 8

  9. At least when I lived in Seattle no one much cared if the Sonics stayed or went.

    I mean the matter gets all matters of coverage in the local papers (well paper, and the Times was always much worse than the PI) and some local businessmen and a few politicos seemed to care. However, if you asked the man on the street he couldn’t care less about whether there was an NBA team in Seattle or not.

    Therefore, I’m less than surprised. Politicians tend to respond to the voters, especially in places like Seattle that have a tendency to throw their politicos out of office with some regularity.

  10. “… male sports fans on social media and certain talk-show hosts on Sports Radio KJR.”

    Who will now, inevitably, start ranting about PC-ism run amok and how this is in some way an attack on their freedom of speech.

    1. As I’ve seen noted elsewhere: A lot of what people call “PC” today is just people not being little balls of intolerance and hatred. But that’s obviously a different discussion :)

      I’m sure those same sports fans are sending a lot of hate mail to the “No” votes as we speak. Never mind that actual sports fans hold precious little sway in policy decisions at any level…

      1. When I was in college, “political correctness” meant people behaving a certain way not because they believed in it, but because they cynically thought it would make them look good. Still not sure when the term got co-opted to mean the opposite.

  11. The idea that there is something specific and negative about Seattle fans is axiomatically bogus. Sacramento, Baltimore, St. Louis, Cleveland, Montreal, Washington, D.C., Oakland, Los Angeles, Houston, Indianapolis,. . . Every city that’s nearly lost or lost a team, or lost and tried to get one back,or had one move in, goes through the same thing. And every fan base has a mean element. The ones who personalize this, or who think it’s city-vs.-city when it is ALWAYS league and owner-directed, have blinkered vision & limited understanding.

    Major leagues prosper and advance their cartel by having fans focus on ‘the other city’ that ‘stole’ or ‘lost’ the team, instead of on the owners and commissioners who engineer this entire racket.

    And the outcome NEVER has anything to do with morality, and ALWAYS has everything to do with money.

  12. Charlie,

    I do really think there is some societal problem with people taking the inane ravings of fringe elements much more seriously just because it is easier to share then these days and the media is savvier about how outrage journalism works. You here “X got multiple death threats over y” on the news and it sounds really serious and unreasonable…

    And then you do a little research and it is some bedridden retard 4 states away who never leaves his house and makes 8 death threats a day…and a 12 year old from Australia.

    There have always been a fringe of unredeemable idiots and their ability to message you over Twitter should not be a reason to take them any more seriously.

  13. Hansen was out-maneuvered and out-hustled by the Port. The Port had a winning message of: “Protect Middle Class Jobs.” Whether or not their message squared with reality, and I happen to think it was bogus on about 3 different levels, that message is resonating in Seattle at the moment. The Port also had the local newspaper pushing it, and they had a lot of actual political muscle in the Longshoreman’s Union and the other maritime businesses as well. In retrospect it is surprising Hansen got as far as he did.

    IMHO Hansen’s project is dead. One huge issue is that he doesn’t appear to have the clout or the financial resources to get an NBA franchise in Seattle. For the NBA to come back here someone will need to put together a deal like the one that got the NFL stadium built in LA. That stadium succeeded because it includes a massive redevelopment project including residential and commercial space. Hansen doesn’t appear to have the multi-billions required to pull that off. Then there is the small issue of the NBA being a small fraternity where he appears to have been black balled.

    The NBA might be back in Seattle, someday. If it happens it will be one of our local billionaires, and there are quite a few, deciding to throw several billion dollars towards acquiring enough land to build a massive NBA/NHL/entertainment district area, and then also buying the franchises. The ironic thing is that the Port fought tooth and nail against gentrification in the Sodo neighborhood. This new project, should it ever happen, will be back down there. The only available land in the City of Seattle for this type of development is in the Sodo area. The area between Safeco on the North, I-5 on the West, 4th Ave on the East, and, say, Orcas Street on the South is going to be re-developed and gentrified. Whether it happens all at once with this type of project, or slowly with more offices and condos, it is going to happen because that’s the cheapest, largest, chunk of land left in the City.

    1. Agree with you here. What I love is the 2 hour lineup by the trucks to get in the port every day on Alaska (South of T46). It will be interesting to see if the Port gets their Lander street overpass since Hansen won’t be kicking in any money for that now. I predict that T46 gets shut down in the next 10 years as they continue to lose business to Vancouver, LA and the canals while shifting Seattle Container traffic to terminal 5.

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