Port Report Predicts Dire Impacts from Proposed Arena

By Erica C. Barnett August 7, 2012

I'll be on KOMO Radio, AM 1000, talking about the Port's report at 1:45.

A series of new reports by the Port of Seattle predicts dire transportation, economic and land-use impacts if Seattle agrees to build a new, half-billion-dollar NBA arena near Port operations in Sodo. The Port, and its consultant Peter Steinbrueck (the former city council member) have been vocal in their opposition to the arena proposal. Steinbrueck did the Port's report on the land use impacts of the arena.

The Port will officially discuss the reports at its meeting at 1:00 this afternoon.

Here are some highlights from the three reports; we'll report more from this afternoon's meeting.

Economic Impacts

If the arena is built in the proposed SoDo location, the Port's economic report concludes, "opportunities for future growth" could be "significantly impacted" both by additional congestion (slowing Port trucks down) and an arena entertainment district for which Hansen has already purchased nearly a block of SoDo land. (Only the strip club Dream Girls refused to sell).

After outlining the Port of Seattle's advantages over other West Coast ports (deep harbors, fully built terminals), the report goes on to  outline the Port's challenges, including financial pressures on cargo carriers and shippers, which, it says, will only be made worse by a new arena because the location will, in the report's words, "exacerbate the situation for exporters by increasing the cost of transportation related to both additional congestion and likely shift of businesses to more remote locations" further south.

"Second, increased gentrification of the north Duwamish area will increase property values, forcing industrial firms to seek more distant locations or go out of business."

Land-Use Impacts

Steinbrueck's land-use report, like both other reports, emphasizes the purported negative transportation impacts the arena would have on Port operations. Additionally, it says, the proposed arena "will likely result in incompatible non-industrial development within the industrial area"---i.e., Hansen's proposed Staples-Center-style entertainment district.

"Further, the proposed arena Memorandum of Understanding does not provide for a thorough review of potential alternative sites, adverse impacts, and potential mitigation as required by law under the Washington State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA).

Steinbrueck makes five recommendations to the city, most of which will likely be anathema to arena supporters: Remove language from the proposed agreement between the city, county, and Hansen's investment group that limits arena construction to Hansen's land in SoDo; start doing environmental analysis that includes alternative sites; engage in "meaningful discussions" with the Port and industrial stakeholders about how to preserve industrial uses in the area; "establish stronger protections for manufacturing and industrial uses in the Duwamish MIC and further restrict conversions of industrial lands to non-industrial uses"; and consider creating a new zoning district to protect the Port and industrial uses in SoDo.

Steinbrueck's report also highlights concerns about the need to buy land from the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad to provide car and truck access to the arena; the possibility that Hansen may want to develop hotels in the area, where they aren't currently allowed; the current lack of minimum parking requirements in the stadium district; the fact that the proposal would shut down Occidental Ave., restricting car access to Safeco Field's parking garage; the fact that the city's "binding and enforceable" agreement with Hansen's group would be adopted before any environmental review had taken place; and the fact that a Seattle Planning Commission report raised many concerns about the impact of the arena.

"It is highly unlikely," the report concludes, "that another multi-block sports arena and entertainment mall of this size can be accommodated at the proposed location in SoDo, without further encroaching on active industrial lands and spurring increased property speculation and the long-term conversion of limited industrial land to non-industrial uses."

Operations impacts

Finally, a 34-page report on the impacts a SoDo arena would have on Port operations reaches many of the same conclusions as the other two reports, concluding bluntly, "The proposed new arena in the SoDo neighborhood will adversely affect operations of the Port of Seattle’s marine cargo terminals, some of which are located directly west of the site identified for the new arena."

Regarding transportation specifically, the report concludes that the city's Hansen-funded transportation study "is very simplistic compared to the [environmental] analyses that were performed for the Kingdome, Safeco Field, CenturyLink Field, and Key Arena"; that more events in the area will make it harder for trucks to reach the Port, increasing cargo shipping costs and making the Port less economically attractive; hurt the Port's ability to operate; reduce the number of hours the Port can operate; create conflicts between Port evening traffic and arena traffic; and much more.

The Port Commission will discuss and take public testimony on the report this afternoon at 1:00; if you can't make it down to Pier 69 (Alaskan Way between Clay and Vine), the meeting will also stream live.
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