If Seattle builds a new Sonics arena in Sodo, we'll draw tens of thousands of patrons downtown dozens of times a year. Those people will spend hundreds of millions of dollars here. But if Seattle passes on this deal, you better believe that developers will move forward with their plans build a facility in Renton or Bellevue, where they're chomping at the bit to build this thing.
So the Seattle City Council has a choice: Build the arena in the city and have those fans spend their money in the city—thereby helping our businesses, contributing to our tax base, and bolstering the economy of our dense city—or send those patrons and their cash to the suburbs.
Want proof that a new arena would draw people downtown from around the state? Back when the Sonics were still in town, an economic-impact study of KeyArena found that 43 percent of visitors came from outside King County, making it "an important tourist destination," wrote UW professor William Beyers, who authored the 2005 report. Moreover, he found that about 80 percent of visitors came from outside of Seattle. Visitors overall spent 20 percent of their money on food, entertainment, and lodging outside the arena. So while there's little regional economic benefit of a new arena, there is certainly a municipal economic benefit.
I know that cheer leading for a new Sonics arena is weird coming from an urbanist faggot commie like me, who isn't usually a fan of sports stadiums. But this arena isn't about sports. It's about bringing over 1 million people a year into the central city for games and concerts, according to that Beyers study. It's about seizing a metropolitan asset that generates $350 million in annual business activity, thereby generating $13.3 million in tax revenues. And it's about bringing lots of those tax revenues into Seattle to help support our libraries, cops, roads, and all the other stuff our city is struggling to maintain—stuff that benefits everybody in the city.
A report last month to the King County Council found the arena would create about 1,800 jobs statewide during the two years of construction, including 600 direct construction jobs. Many of those would be in Seattle. And as for tax revenues? The report says, "The City of Seattle would be the clear winner here in tax revenue redistributions."
Inversely, if the city council passes up this opportunity, Seattle will be the clear loser. Those construction jobs will go to in the suburbs, all those arena visitors will go to the suburbs, and—most of all—the patrons will spend their money in the suburbs.
Cities need to compete with road-oriented sprawl on our terms, and that's by building attractions that act as magnets. Do I think that dense, transit-served, diverse, local-business-supporting cities are superior to auto-oriented, mall-packed suburbs? Yes, and I make no apologies for it. Even though Bellevue has patches of density, it's built for cars, it's hostile to pedestrians, and it's overrun with corporate chain crap. City Hall shouldn't give them a leg up.
But right now, several members of the council are resisting the arena. For example, Council Member Richard Conlin recently said he thought the deal was dead due to internal political opposition to the city spending money on infrastructure. It appears, lacking a substantive complaint about the arena's risk (after all, the city is reasonably guaranteed to be repaid in full from arena revenue without any new taxes), this is mostly about the council's beef with the mayor, who put together the deal with investor Chris Hansen.
If the council rejects this arena and it's built in the suburbs, they'll be screwing us all out of a once-in-a-generation opportunity. They'd also also have no credibility when complaining that Bellevue and other suburbs are usurping downtown business. Nor would they have moral authority to pass meaningless, feelgood legislation (in the name of supporting downtown business interests) like adding new penalties for aggressive panhandling. But this arena—no question—would bring millions of dollars downtown every single year.
The council talks a good game about supporting downtown, cultivating jobs, encouraging density, and funding libraries. So here's a chance for Conlin and the rest of the council to put their votes where their mouth is.