Key Arena renovation MOU gets its first hearing

Yesterday the Council had its first public hearing on the draft MOU with Oak View Group to renovate and operate Key Arena.

Much of the presentation was a rehash of information already made available; if you read my post from last week, then you’re already up to speed on the basic details.

What was more interesting was the public comment session after the presentation, in which the vast majority of the comments were strongly in favor of the MOU. The supporters included representatives from Seattle Center-based organizations such as Pacific Science Center, Seattle Children’s Theater, and even Pottery Northwest which will be relocated during construction.

The Port of Seattle, which actively opposed the SODO Arena, also came out as a strong proponent of the Key Arena MOU.

Labor organizations also came out in numbers and in support, though with a note of caution. Hundreds of workers’ jobs disappear for the two years that the Arena is under reconstruction. At present, there is no plan to help those workers find alternate employment. And despite the commitments in the MOU for OVG to offer jobs to current Key Arena employees when the Arena reopens in late 2020 and to sign labor peace agreements, there is fear and skepticism on whether OVG will live up to that promise, and/or whether it will be an opportunity to do some union-busting.

The SODO Arena supporters were also present, though, and a handful of them spoke in defense of that project. They urged the Council to grant Chris Hansen the street vacation he is seeking, and to consider his late-in-the-game proposal to renovate Key Arena into three smaller performance spaces.

There were two areas where the Council members raised questions for further investigation. One was around the financial model, which guarantees the city baseline revenues at or above the level it currently receives from Key Arena, and splits additional income between the city and OVG in the form of rent rebates. Council member Bagshaw in particular wanted to see a detailed model of revenues.

The second area relates to transportation. The MOU calls for a Transportation Mobility Plan (TMP)  to address the already severe transportation issues around the Seattle Center and Uptown urban center. But the aggressive schedule has that work happening concurrently with the development of the required Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which means that the TMP results will likely arrive too late to influence the options evaluated in the EIS. That may change, though; Council member Juarez, co-chair of the Civic Arenas committee, stressed that it was not her intention to sacrifice the quality of their due diligence in order to meet a specific timeline.

There are three public hearings scheduled, opportunities for public comments on the MOU. The first is October 10th in the evening; the second is November 27th in the daytime, and the third is December 4th. The Council also has another Civic Arenas committee meeting scheduled for November 16th, and it hopes to vote on approving the MOU immediately after the December 4th public hearing.