SEATTLE — Amid a cheering crowd of Sonics fans and community leaders Tuesday, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and King County Executive Dow Constantine signed legally binding agreements to move ahead on a new sports and entertainment arena to host professional basketball and hockey.
Beneath a basketball hoop at the Rainier Vista Boys & Girls Club in South Seattle, the executives said there was a lot of work yet to be done and likely legal challenges over the project’s environmental review, not to mention finding teams to relocate to Seattle.
But Constantine praised the signing of the agreements — approved Monday by the city and county councils — as a “major and critical milestone.”
The biggest cheer, and a standing ovation, went to investor Chris Hansen, whom Constantine said “had the audacity” to propose building a new $490 million arena with $200 million in public funds.
Hansen told the 100 or so people on hand for the ceremony that he was warned in advance about the Seattle process.
“Thank God I didn’t listen to them,” Hansen joked.
After the ceremony, Hansen said he would be working on two fronts. One is to plan and design an arena, which includes a state environmental review with its examination of alternate locations and an economic-impact study.
Simultaneously, he said, he would try to get a National Basketball Association team back to Seattle, “Also no easy task,” he said.
Hansen defended not doing an environmental review sooner in the process, saying he did look at other sites and that the Sodo location south of Safeco Field “worked the best for us.”
“We’re not trying to circumvent SEPA (State Environmental Policy Act),” Hansen said.
He also said he should be able to specify a preferred site because he’s contributing a majority of the funding to the arena construction.
The Longshoreman union announced Friday that it planned to sue the city and county for not doing a complete environmental review earlier in the process. The union argues that state law requires a public project to undergo review as soon as government has a proposal before it and that alternate locations need to be evaluated before a site is selected.
Hansen also detailed his plans for an entertainment district “at the front doorstep to the arena on the land we own between First Avenue South, South Massachusetts Street, Edgar Martinez Boulevard, and the Safeco Garage,” he said.
The Seattle native and San Francisco hedge-fund manager said he wanted to keep it that size so bars and restaurants could flourish.
“That has been a key mistake many entertainment districts have made. It’s better to undersupply the market a bit to create a great ambience and atmosphere as opposed to having a bunch of half-full restaurants and bars that struggle to make it,” Hansen said.
Sonics fans celebrated the signing as a huge step in the quest to return an NBA franchise to the city.
Brian Robinson, co-founder of Save Our Sonics, said, “There’s a Sonics family that’s been through the fire and that’s forged a lot of bonds. This is a special day for all of us.”