The extended push for a multipurpose arena in SoDo seems to be slowing in momentum as it nears the finish line. The Mariners' opposition of it, however, has not. So it should offer some relief to the organization as news came yesterday that Chris Hansen's plan for a new building—and likely, two new professional teams—just barely more than a block south of Safeco has its first real competition.
For those who missed the big news, it came yesterday by way of ESPN's Craig Custance, as he reported a company called RLB Holdings Sports and Entertainment sent a letter to the city of Tukwila seeking clarification on the zoning around a piece of property it owned, just, you know, checking in to see if it'd be alright with them if they could build an arena to host approximately 230 events per year.
Ray Bartoszek, a former oil trader and co-founder of RLB Holdings, is spearheading the effort, shifting his focus to building a Tukwila arena after plans to buy the Arizona Coyotes and move them to Seattle fell through in 2013. He has partnered with basketball Hall of Famer Bill Russell, former Seattle SuperSonics captain Fred Brown and former MulvannyG2 CEO Jerry Lee -- instrumental in land acquisition -- to bring an arena to the Seattle area.
"This is the very early stage," Bartoszek said when reached by ESPN.com. "It's a routine request in the early stages of a potential real estate project."
As could be expected, this is being interpreted as much more than "the early stages of a potential real estate project." Because the goal is for the project to be completely privately financed, they could be on a bit of a fast track, with an ideal series of events having the arena opening by late 2017.
(2/3) ...but says of Hansen "w/o Steve Ballmer's wallet, it was never gonna happen." Says new arena guy has $$$, and could sustain (cont)— Charlie Harger (@charlieharger) April 27, 2015
(3/3) ...the costs of owning a team (NHL for now). PVR likes that #TukwilaArena is 100% privately financed, says better locale than SODO.— Charlie Harger (@charlieharger) April 27, 2015
But what von Reichbauer says isn't entirely relevant here. That it's likely a sentiment shared by the Mariners is though.
While the Mariners will never live down Chuck Armstrong's "rue the day" comments, the Mariners have fared quite well on the arena-related PR front as of late. The organization's last public-facing comments on the matter came from president Kevin Mather, when he spoke with KJR's Dave "Softy" Mahler late last year.
"[What we're asking is,] is this the right spot?" Mather told Softy. "And if it is, if that’s what we say, then we’ll be great partners. I can assure you we’re going to be great partners."
Lately, it's sounded a little different, more like a "Are you suuuure this is the right spot? But really. This can't be the right spot, can it? Come on. This one, really?"
Well, those aren't the exact quotes from the Mariners, of course. Those come, by proxy, from attorney Melody McCutcheon, who represented the Mariners at a Seattle Design Commission meeting reviewing the project in a small room in the bowels of City Hall on April 16th.
"There are a lot of unknowns there," said Melody McCutcheon, an attorney for the baseball club. "We're not any further along then we were a year and a half ago after you gave them a homework assignment."
And she's been at this for a while. The review process had been dormant for quite some time, but she was there for the two previous meetings in 2013, when she—in looking at the minutes for each meeting—demanded that the Mariners, among other things, provide a pedestrian footbridge over the nearby railroad tracks (because the Mariners had to) and an access road to Safeco's parking garage to mitigate the blockage of Occidental Avenue by the arena.
It's curious then, as the updated design presented at that April 16th meeting included both an access road and pedestrian footbridge (in addition to a number of other requests from the commission itself), that McCutcheon would say the project is "not any further along."
At the same time, you can see why the Mariners would do this. As she said during the meeting, we could be talking about changes to the Mariners' property, so it makes sense they want a voice there. Then again, we're talking about an access road, pedestrian traffic and maybe parking. That's it.
Well, maybe—assuming we're not passive-aggressively talking about marketshare.
Either way, here's an interesting contrast: take a look at what's being said out of Milwaukee, as officials and executives there fight to prevent the Bucks from becoming the Sonics.
Milwaukee Brewers lead owner Mark Attanasio, who one year ago on Opening Day said he was interested in possibly contributing to funding a new downtown Milwaukee arena, said Monday he remains willing to help but believes the Milwaukee Bucks owners will figure out a funding plan.
Attanasio’s financial support could be crucial for a new arena, as state and local politicians so far have been unwilling to match the total of $250 million in pledges from the Bucks current owners and former owner Herb Kohl.
Depending on the scenario, a gap of $70 million to $100 million could exist for the projected $500 million arena project between the publicly discussed public and private funding.[...]
I asked Attanasio whether he would be ready to help financially with the arena if asked. He said, "I’m always ready to help if asked."
Of course, neither Seattle project needs funding. One, because it's publicly-financed, needs its neighbors to not put up a huge fuss. The other likely won't see that, and that's why we may end up seeing Seattle's next two professional sports teams not playing in Seattle at all.
I've made my thoughts known elsewhere, that a downtown arena makes more sense for Seattle, but the Tukwila location has a lot of things going for it. There's the all-privately-financed part, then it is connected to transit—and more accessible to certain parts of the larger metro area.
But as we've reached the point where, as others have said, everyone is laying their cards out—Bartoszek is expected to submit a request for a SEPA review of his group’s project by Friday and the SoDo arena's environmental impact review is due May 7th—you hope the merits of each project are decided based on, you know, the merits of each project.
While this process has been going on for years, we're reaching a crucial stage now. And as we do, you hope the Mariners are truly supportive, and that if the city decides SoDo is indeed a good location—the Mariners honor what they said previously.