Seattle's City Council on Monday voted not vacate a stretch of road where an investor aiming to bring an NBA team to the city hopes to eventually build an arena that could house it.
By a 5-4 vote the council chose not to sell a small section of Occidental Avenue South in the SoDo District, throwing a wrench in Chris Hansen's arena project.
The vacating of the street was viewed as the last major step toward Hansen getting a master-use permit and making the $490 million arena shovel ready to lure an NBA team before a memorandum of understanding allowing $200 million in public financing for the project with the city and King County expires in late 2017. Hansen could get a team by relocating a current franchise or league expansion, although the NBA has said it has no plans to expand right now.
Hansen's representatives did not immediately return a request for comment.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Bellingham Herald
The narrow council vote reflected a pitched debate over vacating part of the street and the larger argument of how best to bring professional basketball to Seattle after the SuperSonics left for Oklahoma City in 2008. The Port of Seattle, along with other groups, opposed vacating the street. The port said the arena project could infringe on nearby industrial activities.
Some opponents of Hansen's project have advocated for a remodel of KeyArena, the Sonics' previous home, but the city's agreement with Hansen precludes it from looking into those options until the agreement expires.
Before the council vote on Monday, Port Commissioner Fred Felleman testified that vacating the street would let the arena project "devolve into a litigious arms race," and also would send the message that the city supports gentrification in SoDo.
John Wolfe, CEO of the Northwest Seaport Alliance, a partnership between the ports of Seattle and Tacoma, said the council should "step beyond Occidental" and "try and find a way to bring the Sonics back to town and preserve our industrial working waterfront."
The Seattle Mariners have also said they oppose the arena, which would butt up against the club's parking garage at Safeco Field.
Representatives for construction workers, advocates for the homeless and others testified in favor of jobs that building and staffing the stadium could create.
The arena project would provide "critically needed part time and seasonable jobs which are often a realistic first step on the road to self-sufficiency for those coming out of our program," said Peter Anderson, speaking on behalf of Seattle's Union Gospel Mission.
Many others who showed up to speak at City Hall wore Sonics gear and cheered for the street vacation.
But in the end, councilmembers voting against the vacation said they had existing jobs at the port in mind.
Councilwoman Lorena Gonzalez proved a decisive no vote, saying she had a "profound and deep struggle" with whether to sell the street to Hansen.
"I am wholeheartedly in support of bringing NBA and NHL teams to the city of Seattle," she said at the council meeting. "I hope that we can do so without further compromising the vitality of the port and our rich maritime and industrial history in this city."