Hearing Divided on Impact of Arena Site in Sodo

By Colin Campbell, September 19, 2013, Seattle Times

There is no shortage of Sonics fans who want the professional basketball team back in Seattle.

But no one can agree on where they should play.

A group of roughly 50 citizens stood divided at a public hearing Thursday night as they discussed a proposal for a $490 million new arena in the Sodo District.

The effort to put a 20,000-seat arena near Safeco Field and CenturyLink Field has raised concerns with many who work in the industrial district about increased traffic congestion and negative economic impacts to the Port of Seattle.

Critics also have pointed to the city’s plan to use as much as $200 million in public bonds to pay for the project.

Last month, the city’s Department of Planning and Development released a lengthy draft environmental-impact statement (EIS) for three potential arena sites: Sodo, KeyArena and Memorial Stadium next to Seattle Center.

The Sodo proposal got the most attention and seems to be the most likely site, but it also has brought the most protest from people who work in that neighborhood.

In a statement sent to The Seattle Times, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union criticized the environmental-impact statement, saying it “fails to acknowledge that bringing the NBA back comes at a price of hundreds of millions over the next few decades, particularly if the Sodo site is used.”

Herb Krohn, of the United Transportation Union, has environmental and economic concerns about a potential arena in Sodo. He represents railroad workers, who he said are seriously concerned with any plan to put a new stadium in such proximity to existing train tracks.

He said about 50 to 60 trains travel through the corridor each day, fewer than before the recession. But putting a new arena in Sodo would cause major congestion, Krohn said, negatively impacting not only the train industry, but related trucking and operations at the Port of Seattle.

The plan is not only a risk to business, Krohn said, but to the team’s fans.

“Rail yards do not mix very well with sports complexes,” he said, adding that putting possibly intoxicated fans near moving trains creates a scenario for disaster. “There are going to be people killed and maimed. It’s not safe.” He said the arena site is closer to the tracks than either of the two existing stadiums.

Krohn said Seattle Center would be a more logical site for the arena, given the amount of money the city has put into improvement projects there.

“It just seems ludicrous that we would build another arena in an area that would jeopardize our lifeblood (the port),” he said.

Former King County Executive Ron Sims called the addition of another arena in Sodo “not a wise or prudent decision.”

The impact of necessary Interstate 5 construction would have a “stunning effect” on traffic, Sims wrote in an emailed statement.

He added that the other locations considered for the project are better options and wouldn’t have as drastic an impact as a Sodo arena would have on the port.

“The Port interests cannot be ignored, they are of significant economic value to this region,” he wrote.

Most of the speakers at Thursday night’s hearing were critical of the EIS and opposed a Sodo arena, although a handful, including Ralph Morton, executive director of the Seattle Sports Commission, spoke in favor of the plan.

Morton said that the city needs to focus on its long-term future and that the arena would transform Sodo into a “world-class stadium district.” Several members of the audience applauded his comments.

Walter Tabler, executive director of the Puget Sound Pilots, a group of marine pilots who work in the city’s port, echoed many of the attendee’s sentiments, saying he wants the team and an untouched Sodo economy.

His solution? Put it somewhere else.

“There’s no reason we can’t have both,” he said.

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