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New Seattle arena causing blue-collar concerns

Seattle SonicsA proposal by developer Chris Hansen to build a new Seattle arena near the city’s other sporting venues is causing concerns among unions and port officials about its potential impact on the city’s shipping industry.

On one hand, the new Seattle arena proposal just zips along: it’s currently the subject of an environmental-impact study, and the mayoral race features two candidates who generally support the arena. (An arena opponent lost in the primary. Take that for what it’s worth.) On the other hand, there are certainly concerns about the plan from the blue-collar port industry adjoining the arena site, and there are those who question why Key Arena isn’t adequate as an NBA home or the Seattle Center an adequate location for a new arena. From Crosscut:

The Port of Seattle, the Longshore union and other unions (ship pilots, railroad workers) worry about the impact of the project on freight mobility — being able to move cargo in and out on trucks, ships and trains. There’s a general belief in SoDo that the project — and the likelihood of broken transportation mitigation promises such as those that happened with the other stadiums there — will truly threaten the port’s competitiveness. As one testifier at a recent EIS hearing put it, “Please don’t cut the jugular vein of commerce in Seattle!” To switch metaphors, critics worry that the arena’s increased traffic and attendant development might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back of industrial Seattle….

A better win for the city, argued by some SoDo arena opponents, is a Seattle Center location for the project — either on the site of (a probably demolished) Key Arena or possibly Memorial Stadium. This would kill two birds with one stone: boost the center and solve the SoDo conflict — though demolishing the Key would bring on a battle with preservationists. It is also an option rejected by the city and Hansen, however — and the NBA has already declared Key Arena inadequate for an NBA team. It is also not where Hansen has chosen to sink a small fortune in real estate. Many wonder if one private investor’s decision should be driving city policy to such a degree, though that often is the Seattle Way.

Richard Conlin, one of two votes (along with Nick Licata) against the arena plan, seems to be on the same page. Via email he says, “My personal goal is to work with the manufacturing and industrial folks (including the Port and unions) to start defining a real industrial policy, which would include the transportation system. That way, we could figure out whether and how projects like the arena fit in, and what mitigation would be needed, and do it in a comprehensive way rather than focusing on this one (admittedly big) project.”

The clash between old and new, as chronicled by Crosscut, plays itself out daily in every major city; it’s the tension that guides development and shapes our surroundings. On the one hand, the addition of new sporting facilities in Seattle certainly changed the city skyline for the better and transformed a run-down part of town. A new Seattle arena would have the same potential. On the other hand, Seattle’s port economy is a backbone industry that probably doesn’t get the respect it deserves. How that tension plays out in coming months will be fascinating.


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