The Seattle Arena Project: An Update

While approval of the arena met with resounding local approval, the early architectural renderings have been received with decidedly less enthusiasm. Credit: 360 Architecture.

Approximately ten days ago, preliminary architectural images of the new Seattle basketball/hockey arena were released. About five minutes later, the early reviews began to flood in. Charitably put, they were decidedly mixed.

“This reminds me of the upper decks of a Carnival cruise ship which has the swimming pool on top and the various decks and sort of shade canopy in case the weather gets too sunny,” Dave Ross of the KIRO radio’s “Ross and Burbank” show remarked, upon seeing the proposed designs. Co-host Luke Burbank agreed: “I would like this to have a little bit more of the panache, of say, the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn which was built for the Brooklyn Nets.”

The Seattle arena plan was successfully championed by Seattle native and Bay area hedge fund manager Chris Hansen, who stewarded the proposal through the myriad of legal and political hoops to final approval on October 15th, when the County voted unanimously in favor of the deal and the City passed it by a 7-2 margin. The $490 million plan, with up to $200 million of city and county bonding authority as part of the financing, is now in the midst of a year-long formal review process.

The arena will seat 18,000-20,000 people and was inspired by basketball-enthusiast Hansen as the lure to bring the SuperSonics 2.0 back to Seattle, likely via the relocation of an existing NBA franchise. As the local fans are painfully aware, the original Sonics were lifted out of town by Clay Bennett and his merry band of oil barons in the dark of night after the 2007-08 NBA season. The embattled Sacramento Kings and their persona non grata ownership group would seem to be ideal transplant targets. The NBA has already given its blessing to using KeyArena as a temporary home while the new arena is constructed for any team that decides to move to the greener pastures of the Emerald City. It would seem that the path toward the return of the NBA is set.

As for the NHL, the road is probably longer, given the emotional quotient of the NBA in Seattle versus the NHL, which has never existed previously in the region. The closest Seattle has come to the NHL is minor league hockey, although in a bizarre oddity (due to the rules in existence at the time), Seattle has the distinction of being the first American city to hoist the Stanley Cup, as the Metropolitans defeated the National Hockey Association’s Montreal Canadiens in 1917.

Street level rendering of the new arena. Credit: 360 Architecture.

Additional pictures can be seen here. Needless to say, there were other strong reactions, as there have been throughout this process. Included in the torrent of opinions was a voice representing the Longshoreman’s union, a vocal opponent of the project. “It confirms that any alternative site and analysis in the future is and will be a sham,” said Peter Goldman, an attorney with Longshoreman’s Union ILWU Local 19. Goldman further contended that the release of the designs before a state environmental policy act review is completed violates the law. He also mantained that Hansen’s group is attempting to create a sense of inevitability about the site, trying to generate “political momentum so that no city council member, no county council member would chose an alternative site.”

Aside from the Port of Seattle, there has been other vocal opposition, including the Seattle Mariners. Regarding the congestion factor (cited as the reason the Mariners have been against the new arena), club counsel Bart Waldman said, “We’ve looked at NBA and NHL master schedules. Depending on playoffs, you’d typically have six to 12 conflicts annually if both teams were here and made the playoffs. Roughly half the teams in each sport make the playoffs, so that would occur roughly half the time. We think it would be on average three regular season games and three playoff games for each sport.”

Howard Lincoln (left) and the Seattle Mariners have been vocal opponents of the new arena deal. Credit: By United States Navy, Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class James R. Evans [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
He continued: “The only place in the country that has all four teams in buildings close together is Philadelphia. They also have 22,000 surface parking spaces there, and the sports sites are not near their port, it’s away from downtown traffic, and is served by two major freeways and four major on and off ramps. Nor does Philadelphia have railroad tracks on one side and water on the other. You can always deal with a one-off event a couple of times. We have done that with the Sounders, and we work like crazy to make it happen.” Differentiating the one-off aspects of that scenario versus what the Mariners project for Seattle, he summed up by saying, “You don’t want it to be a regular condition.”

Regardless of the opposition and tepid reaction to the early renderings, it would seem that the new arena in the SoDo region of Seattle is a reality, one that will certainly bring the NBA and, hopefully, the NHL, to Seattle. If the new building is going to look like a cruise ship, let’s at least hope the food and entertainment value are up to the same standards.