I attended the town hall meeting Tuesday night put on by King County Councilmember Bob Ferguson and Seattle City Councilmember Mike O'Brien. I came away not only reminded why I got out of the political arena, but also frustrated at how difficult it is to convince people of anything that they don't want to believe.
Roughly 200 people attended the meeting. I would guess that one third of them were wearing Sonics gear. More than half seemed to support the arena. There was a huge age gap between the two sides.
And everyone seemed to have made up their mind already.
The goal of the meeting was for the public to ask questions and hear answers from the elected officials. It was a worthy goal.
The reality was that almost everyone who was granted time made a statement that revealed their bias.
I came away with a few observations:
Chris Hansen has deemed KeyArena an untenable long-term venue and has already invested in SoDo, which is better equipped to handle an influx of people. (AP)
• I was surprised at how many arena opponents wanted the councils to re-explore using KeyArena instead of the proposed site in SoDo. They seemed unwilling to recognize that Chris Hansen is the one committing the lion share of the upfront money (and paying back the loan in the form of rent) and he has not only determined that the Key is not workable but he has already invested in SoDo.
Furthermore, there is only one designated stadium area in Seattle and that is in SoDo. One attendee pointed out that SoDo is uniquely equipped to handle an influx of people, given the public transportation options that exist there. Seattle Center doesn't have the access to light rail, heavy rail and ferries, let alone sitting at the crossroads of the two largest freeways in the region, plus State Route 99.
KeyArena is no longer a money maker for anyone, and it's no longer important to keep tenants there since there is no more money owed on the building. The longer it is in use, however, the closer it gets to needing major renovations that would be expensive. This proposal would actually improve KeyArena because Hansen would need to modernize it in order to temporarily play there while the new arena is being built. This proposal is the Key's best hope for survival, or for saving the city money on it.
• I was not surprised at how many people still believe that the city would be using new taxes on its residences to pay for this arena. It doesn't seem to matter how many times the opponents are told that their taxes will not be raised nor will the general fund be affected; they will not recognize it. This is precisely the reason I have worked so hard to hold our local newspaper accountable for the leading statements, thinly veiled personal shots and loose interpretations of the facts. Most people get their news from institutions like The Times that interpret those facts. When they use terms like "public funding," it allows misinformation to flourish.
• Councilman Ferguson is planning to propose that a "robust" economic impact study occur to determine exactly what effect this will have on jobs, taxes, bond ratings and tax revenue. The report would examine claims by the Port that another arena will cost them money and ultimately jobs. It would clarify what potential revenues would be lost or gained by the city and county. It would determine how this would effect the excellent AAA bond rating that the county enjoys. This report, conducted by a third party, would be done before the mandatory environmental impact report (SEPA) would be done. As a (hopefully) fair-minded arena supporter, I think that is a worthy goal, though the timing of it would be very important.
I don't think any real information was exchanged Tuesday night. It felt like most everyone there had previously made up their mind. Most folks (on both sides) weren't there to learn the truth – they simply wanted to make their voices heard. That's OK. The 200 attendees represented those who felt passionately enough about this issue to take time out of their busy week to show up. The real question is whether the 18 members of the two councils are sifting through the misinformation, complex financial models and real economic realities to find the truth.
I think if they do that, they will ultimately vote in favor of this proposal, or some reasonable compromised version of it.