King County councilwoman touts arena proposal’s economic potential

August 7, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

Before the King County Council made a landmark decision to authorize public dollars for a sports-and-entertainment arena, Kathy Lambert received 2,700 emails.

The councilwoman, a Redmond resident and the Issaquah representative on the council, said most messages urged the council to approve the arena proposal.

Kathy Lambert

Reagan Dunn

In the end, after months of discussion and hours of testimony, Lambert joined the council majority to approve a key agreement for a $490 million arena — a linchpin in the plan to bring professional basketball back to Washington.

The council agreed July 30 to contribute up to $80 million for a proposed Seattle arena near Safeco Field — if investors can secure NBA and NHL franchises. The county contribution is capped at $5 million if only professional basketball comes to the arena.

The agreement does not include additional taxes for county residents. Plans call for 30-year public bonds to finance the arena, and for arena revenue to pay off the bond debt.

Lambert later cited the proposed arena’s economic benefits — jobs for arena construction and operation, plus tax revenue for the county and a tourism attraction — for the region as reasons for the yes vote.

“I think you benefit by having a great tax base, to keep your taxes down and pay for the public services you want,” she said Aug. 6.

In a 6-3 decision, after public testimony and several amendments from council members, Lambert and others agreed to support the arena pact. The proposal heads next to the Seattle City Council for consideration.

“This is one step in many,” Lambert said. “Many people think that this vote means the arena is going to start being built tomorrow, and that is not at all what it means.”

The framework requires the council to sign off on any changes approved by Seattle elected officials.

The other local representative on the council, Reagan Dunn, came down on the opposite side. Councilmen Larry Phillips and Pete von Reichbauer also dissented.

(Lambert represents Issaquah proper and Northeast King County; Dunn represents rural areas south of Issaquah, Newcastle and Southeast King County.)

Opponents cited concerns about transportation near the arena — and the potential impact on the nearby Port of Seattle — as the council considered the proposal.

The council also considered possible traffic snarls if the arena hosts events at the same time as Safeco Field (home to the Seattle Mariners) and CenturyLink Field (home to the Seattle Seahawks and the Seattle Sounders FC).

“I went out and asked the fans at some of our public meetings, ‘If you were given a year’s notice that on the sixth of this month, 10th of that month and the 20th of that month that there were going to be overlapping games, would you be willing to make a better effort to carpool, to take the bus?’” Lambert recalled. “And they said, ‘Absolutely. We’d be happy to do that.’”

Dunn and the other dissenting voters questioned the arena’s potential impact on the nearby Port of Seattle.

“I have many reservations about the proposed location, including the arena’s potential impact on existing businesses, future growth at the Port of Seattle, and local transportation infrastructure,” he said in a statement.

The amendments the council added to the agreement include a detailed economic analysis to determine the arena’s impact, strengthened language about pedestrian access to the arena and outlined plans for the basketball team to work to retain the SuperSonics name, among other provisions.

Investor Chris Hansen’s ArenaCo agreed to pay for the independent economic analysis and provide pedestrian access to the facility. The organization must also adopt a community benefit agreement to reach out to groups impacted by the arena.

In May, County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn joined Hansen, a San Francisco hedge fund manager, and announced a pact between the county, city and the ArenaCo investment group to govern financing for a proposed arena.

“This proposal is likely the best our region will ever get to bring back the Sonics and lure an NHL team,” Constantine said in a statement released after the council decision. “The unprecedented financial model used for this proposal provides strong protections for the public, minimizes financial risk and is far different from those used for the region’s past stadiums.”

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