Well, I don’t think anyone saw quite that coming: Seattle Mayor Ed Murray was all set to hold a press conference announcing a memorandum of understanding for a KeyArena renovation, when staffers abruptly took down the renderings and canceled the event so that Murray could instead resign as mayor after a fifth (!) person accused him of sexually abusing them as a child:
He announced his resignation Tuesday, hours after news emerged that a younger cousin was publicly accusing Murray of molesting him in New York in the 1970s.
Murray, a former Democratic state legislator elected mayor in 2013, didn’t appear in public to make the announcement. Instead, he issued a statement saying his resignation would be effective 5 p.m. Wednesday.
“While the allegations against me are not true, it is important that my personal issues do not affect the ability of our city government to conduct the public’s business,” the mayor said.
The MOU was still sent by the mayor’s office — which will now be temporarily run by city council president Bruce Harrell until previously scheduled elections in November — to the council, which will have a much more interesting time discussing it than expected. Early reports (the mayor’s office’s web site doesn’t appear to have the actual agreement posted yet, but then it also still hasn’t caught up to the news that the mayor isn’t mayor anymore) are that Tim Leiweke’s Oak View Group has:
- sweetened the pot with $40 million in money for traffic mitigation in the notoriously car-crowded area around the arena, plus $20 million for a “community fund”
- agreed to pay rent on KeyArena equal to what the city currently earns from the building, with a similar deal in place for associated parking garages
- promised to pay all cost overruns and all operating expenses, “including day-to-day and long-term capital upkeep”
I still want to read the fine print — presumably OVG is still looking for $40 million in tax breaks as part of the deal — but this certainly looks like an improvement for taxpayers on the initial proposal, and further evidence that starting a bidding war between two developers for your city’s arena affections is a promising strategy. In particular, that $40 million in transportation money isn’t just a bone to throw to Seattleites worried that the Key neighborhood would get too choked with cars if a pro sports team again played there, but also a commitment by OVG to match Chris Hansen’s similar pledge for transit improvements around his proposed Sodo arena. Whether this is a good deal is still to be determined; but it’s a way better deal than most cities get, and that’s to Seattle officials’ credit.
It’s also a deal that loses its biggest booster with the departure of Murray, who was trying to fast-track the Key plan so he could have some legacy other than “mayor who was forced to resign for abusing teenagers.” That’s not a bad thing at all, necessarily: The council can now take its time to beat on the plan with sticks to make sure there are no hidden pitfalls, and even do an in-depth comparison to Hansen’s latest ante-upping plan to build a Sodo arena and renovate Key himself as a concert venue, if it wants. But either way, it will be considering two plans that are at worst pretty close to break-even for taxpayers, and that’s unheard of in modern sports venue politics.
As for any of this getting an NBA team back to replace the Sonics, that’s still in the distantish future: The league has been clear that no expansion teams are forthcoming anytime soon, and there aren’t any teams immediately looking to move, either. Hansen is a committed hoops fan, but he also may have cheesed off the NBA by giving money to block an arena in Sacramento for the Kings so he could try to buy them instead; Leiweke may be more interested in concerts than sports, but he also should have a good relationship with the leagues from his time at AEG, operators of the Staples Center, among other arenas. Really, the main obstacle to getting an NBA (or NHL) team in Seattle is that the league has been holding out for a new or renovated arena, since to do otherwise would mean admitting that allowing the Sonics to move just because they had to play in a building renovated way back in 1994 was a mistake, so adopting either of these plans should get the leagues willing to talk, at least.
Either a Sodo arena or a renovated Key would come with lots of construction debt that a sports team would have to help pay off via rent if nothing else, so there’s still a chance of a Sprint Center outcome with an arena so busy with concerts that it doesn’t need teams (though without the tons of public debt part, and also Seattle is twice as big a TV market as Kansas City). But if the goal here was to give the city a shot at new sports teams without saddling taxpayers with the costs, Seattle is doing a bang-up negotiating job so far.