M's say arena objection about traffic

SEATTLE -- The concerns about traffic and infrastructure that prompted the Seattle Mariners to state their objection to a proposed new NBA/NHL arena in Seattle are not enough of a concern to stop the project from moving forward and continue the chance of bringing the NBA back to the Pacific Northwest.

That was the determination of an arena review panel commissioned by Seattle and King County that released its findings Wednesday. The panel's charge was to review the proposal from San Francisco venture capitalist Chris Hansen, who has offered a plan calling for up to $290 million in private investment and capping the public investment at $200 million paid off through future taxes and revenues collected by use of the arena.

The panel highlighted a number of potential future hurdles and chief among them the traffic concerns the Mariners highlighted in a strongly worded letter to the city and county opposing the project. But the panel believes the arena could be the catalyst for fixing longstanding infrastructure troubles in Seattle's SODO area that currently houses two sports stadiums and freight going in and out of the Port of Seattle.

"The panel believes the proposal is favorable, has promise and is generally consistent with the principles set forth by the Mayor and County Executive," the panel wrote in its final review. "However, there are many important issues to be worked through to ensure these principles are met and to address other issues of importance to the community."

While the advisory panel was giving its recommendation to move forward on Hansen's proposal, the Mariners were busy trying to stress their letter to city and county leaders Tuesday wasn't meant to block the possible return of the NBA to the region, but a plea to look at other possible sites.

Mariners president Chuck Armstrong said the Mariners have no problem with additional professional franchises calling Seattle home and potentially competing with the Mariners for fan and corporate dollars. Armstrong said the Mariners entire concern is traffic and infrastructure based.

"The surprising part to me is I think people are misconnecting the dots. They are saying that we are opposed to an NBA team coming back and that is not the case. The Mariners strongly and enthusiastically support bringing the NBA back to Seattle. I don't know anything about hockey but it might be fun to have a hockey team here, too. We really don't see that as competition."

In the letter, the Mariners suggested other sites around the Seattle area should be examined as possible arena locations, including the suburb of Bellevue where there's been past debate about putting a new facility. Armstrong reiterated that suggestion a day later, citing the thorough look at possible sites when Safeco Field was constructed in the late 1990s. He also said the team has seen no plans about how infrastructure issues would be mitigated, but no plans about the project have been released other than a ballpark figure of somewhere between $450 and $500 million for the building.

Panel co-chair Jan Drago later pointed out that Hansen is set on using the neighboring site on land that he has already purchased. Other panel members suggested that the arena could be just what the area just south of downtown Seattle needs to create solutions for avoiding future gridlock and parking woes in that area.

"The property is zoned for a stadium so the policy makers have already made a decision previously that that is an appropriate place for a stadium," Drago said. "And Chris Hansen was pretty clear he was only interested in Seattle."

With the panel's approval, the next step is creating a memorandum of understanding between Hansen, the city and the county and then seeking approval from the city and county councils. City and county staffers said at Wednesday's meeting that Hansen would like the MOU approved by both entities by June to improve his chances of trying to acquire and NBA franchise.

Hansen also has pledged up to $10 million to cover predevelopment costs once the agreements are approved, according to city staffers.

""There is a lot of due diligence that needs to be done. A lot of negotiation," Drago said. "There are a lot of hurdles, but we think it's promising enough that it needs to have that scrutiny by the executives and the city council and county council."


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