MAKING IT WORK
The purpose of this newsletter is to provide information, inspire involvement, and make things work in this great city.
SONICS AND KEY ARENA
The saga of the relationship of the Seattle Supersonics basketball team and Key Arena/Seattle Center continues, and is not likely to reach a conclusion soon. This article is a snapshot of the current situation, but there are likely to be new developments on a regular basis.
This history of this situation begins with the City of Seattle renovating the Key Arena at a cost of some $74 million in 1994 in partnership with the Seattle Supersonics basketball team. Under the agreement for this renovation, the Sonics guaranteed that they would play in the arena until at least 2010, and the combination of rent payments and other anticipated income associated with the Sonics was intended to pay off the bonds, which mature in 2014.
Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way. The Sonics were sold to a group of Oklahoma business people, who are currently trying to break the lease and move the team. The City has sued to enforce the terms of the lease, but even if Seattle prevails, the Sonics must stay for two years, but will then be free to move, leaving the City holding the bag for the estimated $25 million of remaining debt. If the Sonics succeed in breaking the lease, they will likely be required to provide compensation to the City that exceeds the rent payments that the City would receive, but the City would be left without a basketball team and would probably not be able to fully pay off the debt. Key Arena would be economically viable as a concert venue with some basketball and other sporting events, but at some point in the future would probably either have to undergo a substantial remodel or be superseded by a new venue.
Currently the issue of the Key Arena lease is in litigation and is a matter between the City Attorney and the Sonics. The decision of whether the team stays will ultimately be determined by the team’s Oklahoma based ownership.
Recently, a Seattle area group has come forward with a new proposed plan for keeping a basketball team in Seattle. They have offered to purchase the Sonics or one of the other teams looking for a new home (Memphis and New Orleans), and to fund approximately $150 million of the estimated $300 million cost of reconstructing Key Arena to meet the NBA’s request and pay off the remaining debt. This proposal would require commitments by the state and City of approximately $75 million apiece.
State legislators are currently reviewing this proposal, and will consider whether to continue some of the current taxes used to fund Safeco and Qwest Fields for this purpose.
The City of Seattle will have to determine whether investing $75 million in Key Arena would be appropriate and meet the standards of cost effectiveness set by Seattle voters when they approved Initiative 91 by a 74% margin. I have asked the City’s Finance Director to provide the Council with an analysis of this. It is likely that the City could justify such an expenditure. Preliminary estimates are that the City will have to invest about $30 million in upgrades to Key Arena even if the Sonics are not tenants, and a good case can be made that the remainder of the investment would be returned through economic activity generated by having a professional basketball team.
It is important that the City act responsibly to protect the City’s taxpayers, and not use scarce resources to subsidize a failing NBA business model. Previous proposals called for City investments that could not meet this standard. This new proposal offers the possibility of a win-win solution.
The NBA has approved the sale of the Seattle Storm to local ownership, so there is already a women’s professional team scheduled to play in Key Arena. It is great to be able to retain this team, who are exciting and positive role models for women’s involvement in sports. Because the Bennett group wants to move the Sonics to Oklahoma City, it is not clear when or how that situation will be resolved. The City Council is committed to doing what we think is right for Seattle, and this latest proposal may offer a way out of the current stalemate. Hopefully at the end of the day we will keep a men’s basketball team and have an economically viable Key Arena that continues to work for Seattle and its residents.
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MAGNUSON PARK DEVELOPMENT, ARENA SPORTS AND HANGAR 27
When the buildings on the former Sand Point Naval Station were turned over to the City to become part of Magnuson Park, an interesting dilemma was created. The City found itself owning a number of buildings, many of them deteriorating and not meeting current seismic codes. While many of the buildings have historic value, there are serious questions as to how to use them as part of a park, and how to fund needed improvements.
Over the last few years, the City has found uses for some of the buildings, but the most difficult decisions remain to be made. The University faces a similar dilemma with the buildings that it has taken possession of.
Turning over office buildings to nonprofit cultural or athletic organizations has been one solution that seems generally workable, and the City is currently prepared to enter into leases with the Cascade Bicycle Club for Building 15 and the Civic Light Opera for Building 47. There is also support for allowing Seattle Court Sports to construct a new indoor tennis center.
However, there are significant difficulties with the large hangar Buildings 2 and 27 and with the office space in Building 11. These three buildings are in very poor condition, and the City has sought to find ways to operate and renovate them, including considering partnerships with for-profit organizations.
Building 2 has been leased by Arena Sports, a for-profit company that provides indoor soccer and other sports activities for a large number of people. Arena Sports has expressed an interest in moving to Building 27, which they propose to renovate. They were the only respondent to an RFP that the City issued for Building 27, but negotiations for the use of Building 27 have been unsuccessful. The Mayor’s office has indicated that they do not believe that the financial agreement proposed by Arena Sports is cost effective for the City.
Building 27 has been used by a variety of nonprofit and for-profit entities for many different purposes. These organizations have banded together as Hangar27.org, and have asked the City to allow them to develop a renovation plan and contract for the renovation and use of the building. It is not clear whether these groups have the financial capability to make the required renovations. The Council and Mayor will have to decide whether and under what conditions these groups would be able to successfully manage Building 27, or whether another RFP would attract viable proposals. A decision is likely to be made sometime in the next several months.
Arena Sports is a valued service provider in our community, and will be able to remain in Building 2 under their current contract. They could also submit a new proposal for renovating and using Building 27, or develop a proposal for renovating Building 2. Arena Sports will have the opportunity to make a business decision about its options. Hopefully, Arena Sports and the City will find common ground for their continued presence in the Park.
The Mayor’s Office will propose a contract for the use of Building 11 by a green technology company that wants to occupy some of the space and manage and lease the remaining area that they will not immediately require. The Council will consider this proposal in the near future, and will have to decide whether this is an appropriate use in the Historic District, adjacent to the shoreline, and whether to contract with a for-profit company. If the Council decides not to enter into this lease, the City will continue to have the dilemma of how to manage and renovate Building 11.
The acquisition of the Sand Point Naval Station has been both a challenge and an opportunity for the City. A series of planning exercises have resulted in projects for active recreation, habitat, low income housing, and creative use of some of the buildings. The City has invested considerable sums of money into the development of the Park, but some of the most difficult and challenging decisions remain to be made.
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THORNTON CREEK AND MEADOWBROOK POND DRAINAGE
On December 3, 2007, the City experienced a severe storm that caused serious flooding situations in several areas of Seattle. Thornton Creek overflowed in several areas, and Meadowbrook Pond was overwhelmed by the volume of water. Between 30 and 50 houses were severely impacted, and Nathan Hale School was flooded and closed for several days.
While this was an unusually large storm event, there have been problems in some areas of this drainage for some time. Kramer Creek, for example, upstream from Nathan Hale and Meadowbrook Pond, has experienced regular flooding events on several occasions in the recent past. Climate change, which appears to be resulting in an increased frequency of severe storms, will likely exacerbate the issues. Development of megahouses and other projects that have large lot coverages have reduced the resiliency of the natural drainage. Residents have also expressed concerns that the drainage infrastructure around Thornton Creek needs additional work, and have suggested that the City was not adequately maintaining the drainage system.
The City must take a series of actions to address these concerns, including:
- Evaluating past maintenance performance, and providing substantive assurance to residents that maintenance will be performed appropriately;
- Evaluating the performance of Meadowbrook Pond to determine whether improvements are needed;
- Addressing the flooding problems in the Kramer Creek area by designing a project that improves those conditions without simply passing water downstream that could cause problems for downstream properties;
- Establishing a community group that will work with Seattle Public Utilities to monitor and advise on improvements to the Thornton Creek drainage systems.
In addition to these immediate actions, the City must address the issues of increasing impervious surface by addressing the issues of megahouses and development regulations that permit excessive lot coverage. Neighbors have identified several such regulatory issues.
The neighborhood and community actors have developed a series of suggestions for process and infrastructure improvements, and these ideas and recommendations must be carefully and thoughtfully reviewed.
Mayor Nickels and Seattle Public Utilities have committed to a plan for improvements which includes many of these recommendations. The Environment, Emergency Management, and Utilities Committee will review this plan and monitor implementation to ensure that action takes place in a timely and thorough manner.
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LOBBY REGISTRATION ORDINANCE
On Monday, March 17, the City Council will consider a proposed lobbyist registration ordinance, introduced by Councilmember Nick Licata and co-sponsored by myself and Councilmembers Tim Burgess, Jean Godden, and Tom Rasmussen. The ordinance is based on national models of best practices in regulating lobbyists. It requires disclosure of activities by persons who are paid to communicate with city council members, legislative department staff, the mayor or the mayor’s staff in an attempt to influence any of those individuals to “develop, propose, draft, consider or reconsider, promote, adopt, enact, reject, take favorable action upon, approve, disapprove, veto, or fail to take action upon legislation.”
Lobbyists must detail the issues that they are lobbying on, who they are being compensated by, and what compensation they have received. Employers of lobbyists must also file reports of their activities. All organizations, businesses, or individuals are covered, including public entities such as the Port and private nonprofits, as long as they employ lobbyists who are compensated.
The legislation before the Council does not require citizens who lobby the Council without receiving compensation to register. Lobbying, of course, shades into citizen engagement, and the goal of the legislation is not to discourage citizen involvement or to prevent other entities from providing the City with appropriate information or to advocate on issues of concern. The purpose of the legislation is to ensure full disclosure when paid lobbyists are involved in the legislative process, so that citizens, the media, and other interested parties are fully informed and so that the process is as transparent and open as possible. I look forward to Council approval of the legislation.
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“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”
-- Alan Kay
“The only people who never get lost are those who never leave home.”
-- Michael Wallace
Citizen participation and engagement are critical for maintaining democracy -- fostering it is a key task of elected
officials. It's my hope that this newsletter will inform you about issues, inspire you to get involved, and that together
we can make things work better in this great city. Please send me your feedback, so we can keep things lively, interesting,
Your Seattle City Councilmember
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