The short answer is ‘Yes, SoDo arena is dead.’
As many of you know by now the Seattle City Council rejected the Occidental Street vacation in the SoDo district. This was largely thought to be the final hurdle in a 4-year process for Chris Hansen to have a shovel-ready arena site just south of Safeco field. Traditionally, street vacation votes with such a glowing Environmental Impact Statement are seen as formalities. But that was not the case…
City council members that voted against the street vacation claimed the threat to Port of Seattle jobs without any data or explanation on how the arena would impact their jobs. The council members that voted no on the street vacation also claimed that since there is no NBA team in site, that there is no need to vacate the street to Chris Hansen. This is circular logic since we will never get a team if we don’t have a clear path for an arena. The entire vote was just political theater to say ‘no’ and I feel that Councilmember Sawant’s statement was the only ‘no’ vote that was sincere and transparent. As much as I disagree with her vote, I respect her honesty.
When everything was said and done, you have a City Council that refused to approve a street vacation for an Arena that had an overwhelmingly positive Environmental Impact Study in a location has the land and infrastructure to support large events. There is no realistic scenario I can see the city council reversing course on that location. Unless there is some kind of Lord of Light possibility I don’t see, I am declaring the SoDo location dead. Additionally, I am fairly convinced that if the Seattle City Council won’t approve the SoDo site, there is a slim to none chance that they will approve any other site in the City limits.
As crazy as it sounds, the ‘no’ vote could be a blessing for an NHL team coming to Seattle. Chris Hansen has made it clear that he doesn’t want to own an NHL team, but he is open to partnering with a potential NHL owner for a possible NHL first scenario in regards to the arena. There are/were 3 potential ownership groups (Levin, Bartoszek, and Coleman), but none of them have been able to reach terms. Without the prospects of an NBA team coming to Seattle anytime soon, an NHL owner would be at the mercy of the NBA expansion/relocation plans. With the SoDo arena plans dead, this could enabled other potential NHL ownership groups and local municipalities to come up with alternative plans. If you recall, last summer there were 4 potential NHL expansion application requests from the Seattle area. It is possible that one or more of those groups have been waiting to see how the Sodo arena plans played out to determine their next move?
NHL Expansion Process
It is true that no Seattle group submitted an expansion application last June and that Bettman has been consistent in his messaging that Seattle will not be part of this expansion process. It is unclear how Seattle could get back in the discussion. The NHL is expected to announce expansion to Las Vegas and Las Vegas only which would create a league of 31 teams, 16 in the Eastern conference and 15 in the Western conference. This would give Seattle (or any other city) time to get their collective…stuff together for an arena plan and apply to the NHL to be that 32nd team. Wishful thinking, maybe but certainly a possibility.