Today, I voted in support of vacating Occidental Avenue South in order to build an arena that would enhance the City’s image as a world‐class venue for sports and recreation. As with any issue of this magnitude that comes through Council, we have heard from many constituents on both sides of this issue and we have also received numerous briefings to ensure we are well informed. In light of this, I wanted to share my reasoning behind voting in support of the vacation.
I grew up an avid Sonics fan and like so many others in this city, my upbringing is punctuated by different Sonics milestones: listening to stories about the ’79 championship team, being at the Key for the ’96 finals against that legendary Bulls team, and watching Kevin Durant’s last game in Sonics green and gold just over a decade later. In addition to my own love of the game, I believe that similar to Seattle’s arts and cultural institutions, sports teams help knit together the social fabric of a community and play a huge part in a city’s vibrancy and civic pride. Our vote today brings Seattle one step closer to a return of the Sonics.
It’s important to clarify that at this point in the process, however, the scope of our upcoming vote is limited to deciding on the feasibility of vacating one block of Occidental Avenue South – a decision that I explored much more through my urban planning lens than that of my love of basketball and the Sonics. As such, the questions that I have continually asked myself throughout this process have been twofold: is the vacation in the public interest and will the public will receive a long‐term benefit? I believe the answer to both questions is yes.
First, I believe vacating one block of Occidental for the proposed arena will not have as significantly negative impacts on parking and traffic as many constituents have voiced. Analysis shows that ample parking opportunities in the area exist to absorb impacts of vacating this block. And with 30% of Seattle’s total land paved over for roads, I believe that vacating one quarter mile stretch of one street won’t have the magnitude of negative traffic implications opponents suggest.
Analysis also shows that as compared to nearby north‐south avenues, Occidental Avenue S does not carry much traffic and is primarily used as a diversion route during times of congestion at nearby intersections. Any potential negative ramifications on traffic due to the vacation have been addressed through plans in the building proposal. Ultimately, with the Mariners, Seahawks, and Arena Co coming to an agreement on event timing and scheduling, plus the existing and expanding Sound Transit light rail and Sounder service, I feel confident that the SoDo neighborhood will continue to be able to accommodate the projected flow of people and goods.
Second, the list of public benefit projects incorporated into the proposed area plans are extensive and go well above and beyond requirements outlined in SDOT’s Code and Street Improvement manual. Through providing open space, innovative environmental design, enhancing streetscapes along right of ways, installing public art projects, and improving pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, the arena will provide long term benefits to the entire community, not just sports fans and arena visitors. You can read the full spectrum of the arena’s proposed public benefits here.
Many have suggested Key Arena as viable alternative; while we need to be thinking creatively as a city how to encourage and sustain increased vitality of the Key and Seattle Center as a whole, this legislation and my vote today is not a referendum on the Key Arena. Discussion around Key Arena as an alternative isn’t feasible at this point since no investors have expressed an interest.
Lastly, having a potential NBA and NHL team will help provide vital economic activity in the region during the winter months, ensuring year-round economic development for countless restaurants, hotels, and other businesses and their employees.
For these reasons I voted yes to vacate this stretch of Occidental Street. Let’s take the first step to bring back the Sonics!