So Seattle City Council member Richard Conlin ignited a moderate frenzy yesterday with his e-mail to constituents saying he doubts Chris Hansen's proposed NBA/NHL arena will be approved by the governing body he's a part of. If you're a proponent of the arena proposal and you're on Twitter, or listen to sports-talk radio, or were anywhere within earshot of the proposed arena's many vocal allies, chances are you heard about it.
"It wasn't my intention to create a big public splash," says Conlin of his e-mail, which questions the need for a public investment in Hansen's proposed SoDo arena, and which he says he probably sent to 50 people or so, all of whom had contacted him regarding Hansen's proposal. Conlin classifies yesterday's e-mail, and providing responses to constituents, as something that's part of his normal daily routine.
As for the e-mail's contents, and Chris Hansen's time spent earlier this month trying to persuade the City Council, Conlin simply says, "I don't feel like I got information that's persuasive ," in making the case for a public investment in the project. He says his prediction that the arena would ultimately fail to be approved by the City Council was "pure speculation" on his part.
While answering e-mails may be part of Conlin's regular routine, the reaction to yesterday's effort was far from normal. Conlin says he probably received 200 e-mails in response yesterday afternoon from Sonics fans upset with his take on the situation. And surely to the chagrin of ardent arena supporters, that's something that inspires a small chuckle from the councilman, and something that - at least on the phone with a reporter - he doesn't seem terribly concerned about.
"Clearly there was a mobilization yesterday," notes Conlin of the response, saying arena supporters and sports-talk radio hosts drove the public outcry to his comments. "Obviously, that's their right to do."
Of course, the real question becomes whether the very public support for the arena, and the backlash to Conlin's comments, represents the majority of his constituency, or is more of a reflection of the well-oiled effort by arena supporters to push the project through. Conlin isn't sure.
"To what extent [yesterday's reaction to his e-mail, and the orchestrated effort to get the arena plans approved] is representative of the people is really tough to tell," says Conlin. He notes that the number of e-mails he gets on a daily basis in support of the arena, "has really dropped off," as of late, and while the initial response to his e-mail yesterday was highly critical of his now-public stance, he says the majority of e-mails he's received today on the subject have been supportive.
As for the other members of the City Council - many of whom attempted to distance themselves from Conlin's take yesterday - the councilman now in the pro-arena movement's crosshairs says they're probably a little bit thankful for his statement.
"It's always nice to have someone else be the target," says Conlin.
"These things happen."
Find Conlin's full e-mail on the following page ...
The e-mail that started the firestorm (as noted elsewhere and in the comments section, Conlin misspells Hansen's name):
Thank you for your message about the proposed arena agreement. When Mr. Hanson made his presentation to the City Council, he indicated that there is not a financial plan that requires public investment in this project. There were also no good reasons given as to why this project should receive public financial support, unlike any other business that would like to locate in Seattle. The City works with businesses to manage transportation, land use, and regulatory issues, but we do not invest public money in businesses.
The Council is working through this issue systematically, with a four part test to reach a decision:
1. Would having an NBA team be a good thing? We agree yes, and applaud the efforts of Mr. Hanson and other investors to find a way to bring back an NBA team.
2. If that requires a new arena, is this the right location? We have some skepticism about both the merits of this location and the impact on Key Arena. We need to continue to review this to understand the impacts and problems of this location, and see if those can be solved by a mitigation plan.
3. Is this an appropriate area for public investment? I have seen no evidence that justifies making a public investment, nor any serious reason why a public investment is necessary for the project to proceed.
4. If a public investment is made, is the public protected as promised? We will continue to review this. It is a complex proposal, and there are many layers that need to be untangled before we are able to come to a conclusion about this. It is not clear that the proposed relocation guarantee, for example, is any stronger than the lease which the Sonics broke when they moved to Oklahoma City. It is not clear whose assets are on the line if the arena becomes insolvent - the arena in Portland (with a team owned by Paul Allen, who certainly has deep pockets) declared bankruptcy, leading to a difficult and challenging financial problem.
On balance, I think it is unlikely that this proposal will be approved. I encourage proponents of a new basketball team to lobby Mr. Hanson to pursue this as a private enterprise with public cooperation but without the complex financial arrangements and public investment that the current proposal appears to rely on.
Councilmember Richard Conlin
Chair, Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability Committee
Seattle City Council
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