Many high-fives and hugs were exchanged Monday when the Seattle City Council formally approved an amended Memorandum of Understanding with hedge fund manager Chris Hansen - all but paving the way for Hansen's proposed $490 million SoDo arena to become a reality. However, two members of the council - Nick Licata and Richard Conlin - voted against the deal, a fact that didn't go unnoticed by area sports fans.
Both Conlin and Licata take issue with public funds going toward a private, for-profit enterprise, with Licata also questioning the ramifications the new deal will have on Key Arena and the Seattle Center.
The council member took the time to explain his vote - and post the remarks he made regarding it during Monday's council vote - via his official Seattle City Council blog, an effort that may not soothe the hurt feelings of sports fans, but goes a long way toward illustrating the complexities of the issue.
First, though, let's let KJR sports radio jock Dave "Softy" Mahler shed light on the feelings of many area sports fan regarding Licata and Conlin's vote:
Licata and Conlin vote no on arena proposal. When u vote for the City Council, vote for someone else.— Dave Softy Mahler (@Softykjr) September 24, 2012
"I expected that there would be fans disappointed in my point of view, but I have found those that have attended our Council meetings to be polite and attentive in listening to the Council's discussions," says Licata in an email correspondence with Seattle Weekly. "I believe they reflect the vast majority of sport fans. I have found people expressing very strong opinions on both sides of this issue, it is an emotional one so I'm not surprised."
Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's let Licata explain his vote.
First of all, while painting the agreement in a positive light despite the "no" he cast, Licata notes the "significant concessions," the council was able to negotiate from Hansen - concessions like a full SEPA review, a personal finance guarantee, and a financial agreement to create a "SODO Transportation Infrastructure Fund." These revisions to the proposal originally submitted to the council have obviously gone a long way toward making Licata feel better about the situation. In addition, Licata also notes that "the labor unions that will be serving at the arena are very pleased with the 30 year agreement they have reached with Hansen."
As noted above, the meat of Licata's objection to the arena agreement comes down to pumping public money into a private, for-profit endeavor. In identifying the difference between the new arena and other entities like Benaroya Hall, the Seattle Art Museum and McCaw Hall - which have all benefited from public dollars - it's this object Licata harkens back to.
From Licata's blog:
The real difference between these other cultural institutions and the new arena is their corporate status - non-profit vs. for-profit. The administration and operation of those other institutions is open to public scrutiny, with the city having representation on their boards. The new arena will be controlled by a private corporation whose existence aside from providing sports entertainment is predicated on making a profit for their owners, and as we have seen selling the team when their profits sink.
The problem is that privately owned or controlled professional sport facilities need huge public subsidies without providing clearly measurable economic benefits. This of course ignores the enjoyment that many local citizens derive from having a home team.
In terms of what it means for the future of Key Arena, Licata is also critical of the arena deal:
What some citizens see is that those who have a lot of money are using public resources to make even more money. They see someone purchase private land and in a couple of years get the city to buy it from him for double the price he purchased it for. It strikes them as wrong.
When they see the city abandoning a major public facility, e.g. the Key Arena, without a plan on how to recoup its financial contribution to the Seattle Center, they see that as a mistake. Keep in mind that the Key Arena, despite the existence of the Qwest Exhibition Hall that some said would put it out of business, made $300,000 last year and provides an additional $1 million in parking revenue generated by the 110 events it hosts every year. It is difficult to see the current proposal as anything other than a blow to the welfare of the Seattle Center and a death knell to the Key Arena, which we have plowed $100 million in tax dollars into. I predict there will be a public vote for a revitalized Seattle Center.
Licata seems to make it a point to stress the fact he doesn't discount the enjoyment sports fans will reap from a new arena. That said, this enjoyment, he says, must be weighed against the long-term health of our city, and it's important not to sacrifice one for the other. Licata says he has heard to cries from Sonics fans, and "is satisfied that the majority of the Council has heard them."
But while he's heard from these sports fans, Licata is sticking to his guns:
But I also hear those citizens who want the City to concentrate its resources on protecting what we currently have in place, the Key Arena and the Seattle Center, the maritime and manufacturing industries. They want public funds used for closing the gap that has grown between the 1% and the rest of us, not for subsidizing private companies even if they provide a great cultural experience. Instead, the marketplace should determine, by the number and wealth of their supporters, a company's financial success.
In summary, I believe this proposal is a good one; it meets a high bar for public accountability. It is a rather solid tree in a forest of not such sturdy timber. However, I concur with those who focus on the unhealthy state of the forest and not on any particular tree. Their voice says enough of this; please address our other needs first and foremost. I hear them, and I will be casting a no vote.
Which, as we know, is just what he did.
And while sports fans might not agree with him, it's hard to argue with the perspective Licata brings to the table.