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While Sonics fans and some politicians cheer as plans solidify for a new Sonics arena in Sodo, its boundaries outlined in black, Port officials and others representing workers in Burien and West Seattle are looking out for Port jobs which may be in jeopardy, in their view. Pictured is Safeco Field just north of the site, with Harbor Island at top, left, to the west.

Sonics arena not a slam dunk; Port sees problems

Port & Sport

Fans who attended the joyous Seattle SuperSonics rally in Pioneer Square June 15 to cheer for the return of their favorite team to the proposed sports arena in SoDo may have thought the deal was a slam-dunk, a win-win for the city. However, opposing forces may take this sports complex plan into overtime. Their complaint? Location, location, location. They fear an overlap of Port traffic and foot traffic will drive Port business away.

The proposed 7 acre-plus irregular rectangle sits within the boundaries of the Safeco Field Garage at S. Massachusetts St. to the north, S. 1st Avenue to the west, S. Holgate St. to the south, and train tracks just east of two warehouses. An additional finger of property extends north along 1st Av. as a corporation affiliated with investor Chris Hansen paid $9.45 million for two properties there.

Supporters of the site who join Hansen are Mayor Mike McGinn, King County Executive Dow Constantine, players, Detlef Schrempf, Slick Watts, Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, and local rock stars Duff McKagan and The Presidents of the United States.

The official SDOT Arena Report pdf states: "Regular hours for container terminal operations are 7 am to 4:30 pm at Terminal 46, and 8 am to 4:30 pm at Terminal 30, Monday through Friday. The terminals are closed on weekday evenings and on weekends when the majority of sports and other events take place at the new arena. Weeknight start times for NBA, NHL, and WNBA games would likely be 7:35 pm. Since most arena event attendees would arrive at the facility no earlier than 2 hours prior to game time, conflicts between Port of Seattle container terminal traffic and arena traffic would be minimal."

Not true, according to Port officials. They are looking ahead with their "Century Agenda" which includes gradually increasing the current two million containers moving annually through the Port to their stated goal of three and a half million containers. But to accomplish this, they may need to extend shipping hours to evenings and weekends.

According to an official statement released May 30 by the Freight Mobility Strategic Investment Board, "The prospect of adding an additional sport entertainment venue in Seattle, while popular for many citizens, could pose a problem for the movement of freight in the area. The Board is concerned with the potential negative impacts to freight mobility within this area particularly given the proximity to the western end of the I-90 corridor that is extremely important to the movement of freight from statewide locations requiring access to international markets through the Port of Seattle(...)

"Thousands of jobs locally and statewide could be impacted if shippers are concerned with the efficiency of moving freight through Seattle. In the past we have seen roadway congestion used by competing ports trying to divert traffic from the Port of Seattle."

Port Commissioner John Creighton

"I am personally very excited about bringing the Sonics back to Seattle, not only as a fan but as a policymaker for economic development," John Creighton told the Highline Times. Creighton has served on the Seattle Port Commission since 2005. In 2006, he was appointed by Gov. Chris Gregoire to the Washington State Freight Mobility Strategic Investment Board, and he has also served on the advisory board to the Seattle Convention and Visitors Bureau since 2010.

"It would be a huge boom to tourism," he added. "That said, we have to realize that the south Seattle area is becoming very congested. Over a billion dollars in investments have made in the last two decades in south Seattle's harbor waterfront and Harbor Island. We (the Port) were completely caught off guard by this deal. The most concerning thing to us is the speed to which this arena deal is going foreword.

"Over a decade ago, the Port community politically acquiesced on the assumption that three freight corridors would be built, including the 519, two interchanges around Safeco Field and a Lander Street overpass. That was under then Mayor Paul Schell. Then Mayor Nickels took over, and the 519 was reduce dramatically for freight. Lander was never built.

"The money was diverted from Lander to Mercer Street," he recalled. "Royal Brougham Way was retooled. I believe that from the standpoint of Mayor Nickels and the Mariners they didn't want the heavy freight corridor going through their 'nice ball park'. Any mitigation we look at for freight as part of any SoDo basketball arena I believe needs to be done up front because the freight community cannot rely on their assurances.

"There is this constant chipping away at freight movement efficiency at these projects," he added. "The silver lining of this proposal is that it brings these issues to a fore. These issues existed even before the new arena proposal."

King County Council member Pete von Reichbauer

King County Council member Pete von Reichbauer has called for the Seattle arena proposal to go before King County voters as the $490 million project proceeds. He serves Algona, Auburn, Black Diamond, Covington, Federal Way, Pacific, Kent, and Milton. While he doesn't want to rain on the parade, he is concerned that the arena will scare away the customers using the port and his constituency will be out of work.

"If the issue is, 'Do we want the Sonics back?' All hands go up," he told the Highline Times. "If the question is, 'Is Chris Hansen a good man?' My hand goes up. 'Is the site the best site possible?' My hand stays down as I am trying to do due diligence in respect to potential problems that could impact jobs and businesses in the area.

"When the Maritime Industry workers, many of whom live in West Seattle and the south Seattle area, come to me worried about the loss of jobs, and movement to Tacoma, than I've got to listen to them," von Reichbauer said. "There are people who are third generation West Seattleites who come to me, who work on the docks and who are worried their jobs will go to Tacoma. It's not an academic exercise if you are working at the docks. It's your life.

"We may eventually see Seattle become the city of the very rich and the very poor," he added.

He also pointed out that some fans arrive at 2:00 p.m. for 7:00 p.m. games, and that can blog up the streets. And what about the jobs promised by supporters of the new arena?

"Show me the beef," he said. "And I don't mean part-time jobs selling hot dogs."

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