For anyone interested in the nitty-gritty of how the Seattle city council ended up issuing an environmental impact statement that said Key Arena couldn’t be renovated to modern NBA/NHL standards while it had another report in hand saying that it could, a report this morning by the Seattle Times’ Geoff Baker has all the nitty that your gritty could ever need:
Six weeks before the city of Seattle’s release last May of an environmental study on the proposed Sodo District arena, the woman preparing it received a telephone call.
The man phoning URS Corp. Vice President Katy Chaney was Ryan Sickman, a project manager with AECOM preparing a different report for the City Council on KeyArena’s future. Public records released to The Seattle Times indicate Sickman and Chaney discussed how their reports differed on whether KeyArena could be modified for NBA and NHL use without demolishing its unique roof…
“Let me know if you have suggestions on whether to, and how to, revise either the EIS text or the response so that we don’t appear inconsistent between the two documents,’’ [Chaney] emailed Sickman on March 25, 2015.
Sickman two weeks later suggested a 221-word revision stating: “There are now studies in front of the city that show how the KeyArena could be reconfigured and redesigned within the building’s existing structure to accommodate both NBA and NHL franchises based upon the now accepted Sacramento Kings design model for NBA seating distribution.’’…
After the suggested changes bounced around privately between Seattle city staffers and politicians, the AECOM report’s scheduled early May rollout was postponed.
Nick Licata, who was on the council at the time, previously said, “There’s a lot of ways of not holding back information but not amplifying it. I wouldn’t say [the AECOM report] was purposely held back, but I don’t think there was much attention given to it.” That sounds about right from this latest timeline: Right as the council was about to issue a report finally moving ahead with Chris Hansen’s proposed SoDo project, the possibility of renovating Key was raised, and everybody more or less went, Oh, jeez, we can’t handle going back and looking at more options. Let’s just pretend we never saw it.
Baker also provides some detail on what happened in that “bounced around” period, drawn from city emails, particularly those of then-city policy analyst Sara Belz:
AECOM project lead [David] Stone by then was still tweaking his own delayed report and asked Belz on May 15 about mentioning the EIS — given extensive media coverage of its release and continued NHL possibilities in Seattle.
Belz took three days to reply, saying she’d checked with colleagues and “we don’t think you need to devote space in your report to the EIS or NHL stuff. Our thought is just that it might create confusion regarding the scope of your contract and analysis.’’
Again, this is way short of “coverup,” but still certainly doing their best to pretend that the two reports didn’t say dramatically different things, because nobody likes to do rewrites. The interesting bit now will be to see whether there are any repercussions, either for the city officials involved or for the SoDo project itself, especially with the council set to give final approval and opponents turning up the heat to try to block it. If last year was seen as too late to make changes based on new options, it seems impossible that the council would pursue it this year, but stranger things have happened. I think.