Key Arena Redevelopment MOU set to be approved on Monday

It looks like the final roadblocks have been removed, allowing the City Council to vote on Monday to approve the MOU with Oak View Group on renovation and operation of Key Arena. And unlike last time the Council took a big Arena vote, it looks like the “ayes” have it.

When we last visited the issue, the Council’s Arenas committee had reviewed the draft MOU and asked the city’s negotiators to take six items back to the table for further discussions. According to an email today from Council Central Staff Director Kirstan Arestad to the Council members, those negotiations were successful and a new version of the MOU has been prepared that incorporates all of the Council’s requests.  This is not surprising, as the issues were mostly minor fine-tuning in the larger context of the agreement.  The changes include:

  • If the construction phase runs longer than the estimated 24 months, OVG will begin making rent payments at the 30-month mark unless the delay was caused by the City.
  • Of the $20 million in charitable contributions OVG has committed to, at least half will be in cash (rather than “in kind”).
  • OVG is required to coordinate with neighborhood organizations such as Uptown Alliance, Uptown Arts and Culture Coalitions, and Project Belltown in development of the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA). The CBA will also need to address wayfinding signage issues that impact the surrounding neighborhoods.
  • OVG must coordinate schedules with resident arts and cultural organizations such as the Pacific Northwest Ballet and Seattle Opera. In practice, this already happens, but the Council members felt strongly that it should be made an explicit expectation in the MOU.
  • OVG will provide a schedule for the eventual return of Pottery Northwest back to its original location on the Arena site, and OVG will cover the relocation costs.

In committee, the MOU had the support of six Council members (assuming the six issues were addressed): Johnson, Gonzalez, Bagshaw, Juarez, Herbold and Harrell.  (Johnson had to leave before the committee vote, but expressed his verbal support) Since all of their issues were addressed, it’s unlikely that any of them would flip to a “no” vote Monday afternoon. Sawant may vote “no” on Monday on the principle that she objects to the city making deals with large corporations. Since O’Brien didn’t show up to the committee meeting, he doesn’t have much moral authority to reject the deal that his colleagues negotiated. Mosqueda will be on her 7th day in office, but with the strong labor protections in the MOU (and unions’ generally strong support for the deal) she has many reasons to vote “yes.” But even if Sawant, O’Brien, and Mosqueda were all to vote against the MOU, the other six votes are enough to pass it. Seattle’s new Mayor, Jenny Durkan, has not given any indication that she would veto the MOU.

In related news, Chris Hansen’s MOU with the City for a SODO Arena expires on Sunday, giving the Key Arena plan a clear path forward.  Hansen may still push for building his arena outside the terms of the MOU — meaning that he would no longer have the benefit of the public financing arrangements in his deal (though he claims he no longer needs public financing), and he would still need to get the city to vacate part of Occidental Avenue. And once the MOU with OVG is signed on Monday, Hansen is pretty much on his own, since the MOU specifies:

the City shall not provide financial support, benefits, or incentives (other than those that are generally available to any potential developer) with respect to the construction of any live entertainment venue with a capacity of more than 15,000 seats within the jurisdictional boundaries of the City of Seattle.

The city has been sitting on Hansen’s repackaged request for a street vacation for several months, effectively running out the clock on the SODO Arena MOU. Once that MOU expires and a new one is signed with OVG, whether a street vacation of Occidental Avenue is in the best interests of the city is a very different question, one that SDOT and the Council can easily answer “no.” That doesn’t mean Hansen will go quietly into the night, nor does it mean that the Key Arena renovation will go forward without a hitch. Hansen can take a “wait and see” approach in case the Key Arena plan falls apart (and there are countless ways it could). Alternatively, he could give up on building an arena and redevelop all the property he’s acquired in SODO into a new commercial/industrial complex. In either case, expect to hear from Hansen on his plans after the Council votes on the MOU.

The next chapter for Key Arena likely begins on Monday afternoon.

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