Commentary: Flawed arena process needs to be re-evaluated by new mayor and city council

If you’re a fan of “The Twilight Zone,” you can see a new episode in person this Thursday morning at 10:30 inside Seattle City Council chambers.

That’s the next committee meeting on civic arenas – or at this point, the singular “arena” - as KeyArena supporters come out of the woodwork, rarely found anywhere else I go, but front and center at these important council meetings.

Now, let me be clear: I appreciate the intent of an aggressive timeline on KeyArena – one that even councilmember Mike O’Brien said this week is designed to welcome an NHL team in October 2020. I’m over-the-moon excited about the potential for Seattle to have an NHL team. But the city’s process has been - and continues to be - rushed.

Remember, the city council will likely vote on this in early December. Need I remind you that councilmembers are currently up-to-their eyeballs with the city budget right now – and they want a vote on this thing in less than a month?

Plus, after this week’s election, we now have a brand new mayor and a new city councilwoman. Mayor Jenny Durkan might be neutral, but it’s her responsibility to see how poorly this process has gone. And you’re asking a new councilwoman, Teresa Mosqueda, to potentially vote on a KeyArena MOU in just her second week in office.

This week, the Seattle Times Editorial Board made the same argument about rushing new rules for Airbnb and short term rentals. “Let the new council and mayor weigh in on this once they take office, and when voters are actually paying attention,” it wrote. The same can be applied in regard to a vote on KeyArena.

Again, Mayor Durkan has to see the big picture – that the city has missed multiple chances to better their deal with Oak View Group – with the following examples:

Number #1: The Proposal Process. The city received two proposals. And even though one originally included public bonding, the city allegedly refused to allow either one to improve their original deal.

Said Seattle Partners: “Consistent with a general lack of active engagement through this evaluation process, the City declined to seek improved terms, refusing requests from us and others to call for a “best and final” offer from both bidders.”

If you sell a house and receive two offers, and one of them wants to up their price, you don’t say no! But that’s essentially what the Office of Economic Development allegedly did, which was a complete disservice to getting the best possible deal.

Example #2: The inability so far to evaluate the KeyArena proposal side-by-side with the revised SODO plan.

For the last five years, councilwoman Sally Bagshaw has been asking to look at all options, including KeyArena. This was a “100-year decision” for the city, she argued. A decision shouldn’t be made in haste without looking at all possibilities.

But that’s EXACTLY what’s happening now! The council is set to vote on a KeyArena proposal in less than a month without even giving the SODO plan a look. Just like it did with Seattle Partners, the city is failing to look at another option that, at the very least could strengthen their negotiating position, and at the very best, could actually be the more practical option! (Which it is, in my, and many others’ opinion).

Example #3: Scrutiny. The SODO plan faced major scrutiny at every corner. The Final Environmental Impact Statement took THREE YEARS to complete. The KeyArena timeline says it’s EIS will be done by next September!

Writes Jack McCullough, a lawyer for the SODO plan: “The EIS for the KeyArena renovation project should be no less comprehensive.” I agree. It shouldn’t gloss over the biggest issues here, including future development and multiple-event impacts on transportation, among many other concerns.

I’m hoping Mayor Durkan and the new council realize that this has been a hurried and flawed process from the start.

Again, I want the NHL here. But we’ve waited close to a century to have another team competing for a Stanley Cup. We can wait another few months to make sure we’re doing this the right way.

It’s the city’s obligation. Otherwise, we remain at status quo, and the real-life season of “The Twilight Zone” continues with an ending the city - and sports fans - just might regret.