A city council committee just took the penultimate step toward adopting an agreement with arena developer Chris Hansen; the agreement now moves to a vote of the full council.

The biggest concern at today's meeting appeared to be the fact that although the agreement requires a formal environmental impact statement that explores sites other than the land Hansen has already purchased for the arena in SoDo, including KeyArena, it says explicitly, "The Arena will be located on the Project Site," defined as Hansen's land in SoDo.

Environmental attorney Peter Goldman, who has opposed the proposal on the grounds that it violates state environmental law, called the deal a fait accompli for Hansen. "Ninety percent of the document is specific to the SoDo site," Goldman said. "You don't have to be an environmental lawyer to know that this is a done deal disguised byehind a year of pointless [environmental] process."

Council members expressed similar concerns (before, of course, voting for the proposal). "How can we be assured that the [State Environmental Policy Act, or SEPA] analysis that we’re going through is actually a thorough and unbiased approach that includes other alternatives?" Sally Bagshaw asked rhetorically.

Tom Rasmussen added: "If the [Environmental Impact Statement] process is to include looking at alternative sites and having a fair review and evaluation of the alternate sites, why wouldn’t we say the arena 'may' be located in SoDo rather than that it 'will' be? Wouldn’t that address the concerns that people might have that we’re not going to have a thorough and objective environmental review?"

In response, Bruce Harrell scoffed, "Everyone understands that we are looking at a particular site. ... The opponents who suggest that the SEPA process is going to be a sham---they would believe that even if we" adopted the language Rasmussen suggested. Ultimately, they did not adopt that language.

Council members also expressed concerns about the fate of KeyArena. (As I reported earlier today, a $5 million "KeyArena fund" included in the proposal does not actually have to go to KeyArena.) "I don't want one arena to be sacrificed for another," Bagshaw said. Licata echoed: "I really struggle with how we justify making a public investment in one private facility while preparing to abandon another one."

Ultimately, the agreement passed with seven council votes (Richard Conlin was absent, and Licata abstained) and will go to the full council on Monday, September 24.
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