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Voice of Sonics: Seattle council decision sets back NBA 60 months

The Seattle City Council voted 5-4 against vacating a street in SoDo to build a new sports arena, a major setback to any chances of bringing the NBA back to Seattle.

In April, a City Council committee approved vacating a one-block section of Occidental Avenue South, leaving the possibility open to build an NBA and NHL arena in Seattle. On Monday, the full council debated the merits of allowing arena investor Chris Hansen to buy and vacate the land so that the developer could build a home base for the Sonics.

This was the last major step before the City of Seattle could issue a Master Use Permit for the arena project. Vacating the street would have given Hansen a five-year window to find an NBA team for Seattle.

Related: O’Neil: No plausible scenario for NHL or NBA to return to KeyArena

710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny O’Neil said Tuesday on Seattle’s Morning News that he isn’t sure what the vote truly means for the future of this project, but it’s definitely not good.

“It’s certainly a significant blow,” he said. “My opinion is this was already a longshot project at this point, that they were going to land an NBA team or start building with all private money. I did not think that the likelihood of this resulting in an arena or teams was very high. At the same time I was still surprised that the decision was made in many ways by the city council to pull the plug now.

“This was basically, in some respects, a debate over the sleeves on a vest,” O’Neil added. “There wasn’t going to be a team on the horizon that was coming here and they may have extinguished, not a real arena plan but a theoretical arena plan.”

On Monday, council members, including Sally Bagshaw and Debora Juarez, noted the importance of supporting the Port of Seattle, rather than the unknown future that comes with a third arena. Kshama Sawant said she hated voting jobs vs. jobs, but that she couldn’t get past the threat of undermining working-class, waterfront jobs.

The vote was split along gender lines, with council members Sawant, Juarez, Bagshaw, Lisa Herbold and Lorena Gonzalez voting no; Tim Burgess, Mike O’Brien, Bruce Harrel and Rob Johnson voted yes.

The Sustainability and Transportation Committee had debated for months over whether to vacate Occidental Avenue south of Safeco Field before voting 4-1 in favor of vacating the street.

The Port of Seattle, the Seattle Mariners and other businesses have been critical of the plan because of the extra traffic they say it would add.

Hansen released the following statement on his blog Monday:

Today’s City Council vote was disappointing but we don’t believe it is the end of the road in our quest to bring the NBA and NHL back to Seattle. We know all the fans who have stood solidly by us these past years share our disappointment but it is important that we all stay focused on our shared goal. We now need to take a little time to step back and evaluate our options, better understand the council’s concerns and find a path forward. We will keep you posted.

Mayor Ed Murray weighed in on social media Tuesday, saying he remains committed to exploring all options to bring a new to Seattle.

Kevin Calabro, the longtime voice of the Sonics, tweeted: “Wish I could say I’m shocked. I’m not. Interested now on what the plan is moving forward. Imo this sets NBA back at least 60 months.”

KIRO 7 contributed to this story.

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