A King County Judge has ruled against a legal challenge to a proposed new Seattle arena, clearing a major hurdle in the deal between investor Chris Hansen, Seattle and King County.
King County Superior Court Judge Douglass North ruled moments after hearing arguments from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and lawyers for Hansen, Seattle and King County.
The union argued unsuccessfully an environmental review should have preceded any agreement, and local officials violated state law by going ahead with the agreement anyway.
The union also argued adding a third stadium to the area south of downtown would choke freight traffic and cost jobs.
The "memorandum of understanding" signed last year setting out the parameters of a deal to build the $490 million arena created irreversible momentum toward construction, and therefore the environmental study was required, union attorney David Mann said in asking the judge to invalidate the agreement.
"This case is not about whether the Sonics should or are returning to Seattle," Mann said. "What the case is about is whether the city council, the mayor, the county council and executive went too far."
The NBA's Supersonics played in Seattle from 1967 to 2008 before its new owners moved the team to Oklahoma City and renamed it the Thunder. Outside court, the director of "Sonicsgate," Jason Reed expressed relief over the ruling adding it should calm any fears NBA owners have about approving the sale of the Sacramento Kings.
Hansen's group, which includes Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer, has reached a deal to buy the Kings from the Maloof family and move the team to Seattle, but it still needs approval from the NBA. Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson has been trying to put together a rival investment group to keep the team.
The judge expressed skepticism about the union's arguments, noting - as lawyers for Hansen, Seattle and King County did - that the agreement does not actually commit the city and county to building an arena south of downtown, and that an environmental review will be done before any such commitment is made. State law requires environmental reviews "before an agency commits to a particular course of action."
"How does it bind them into going forward with a SoDo arena?" North asked.
"There is no authority for the city to approve an alternative location," Mann responded.
Another lawyer for the union, Peter Goldman, described the promise of a future environmental review as a "sham," saying that by the time a review is completed, the Sonics could be back in Seattle, playing at KeyArena in anticipation of a new arena being built. No city government is going to reject the building of the arena in SoDo at that point, he argued.
"We're still going to work the process very carefully as the E.I.S. unfolds," said Mann. "We're going to be very involved with explaining, making sure that the E.I.S. fully documents traffic impacts, transportation impacts, impacts to the port, impacts to these working families." But Mann said the union had not decided if it will appeal the judge's ruling. An assistant Seattle city attorney said the city has authority under state law to pick other arena sites if necessary.
The Associated Press contributed to this report