An Open Letter to Seattle City Council on Sonics Arena

The final logo of the SuperSonics
The final logo of the SuperSonics (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are so many things that had to go wrong for my beloved Supersonics to leave Seattle, it’s unbelievable that they all happened so quickly and with the blessing of the powers-that-be.

Looking back on it now, it is clear that the KeyArena lease between the city and the team needed to be redone. David Stern had this to say about the Supersonics lease, “It’s not a very good lease, to say the least it’s the worst in the league,” Stern said. “The city says they’re not prepared to do anything to improve it. I don’t think this is a difficult choice.” ESPN

Sharing luxury box revenue and concessions with the City of Seattle was unique in the NBA. Those are two large money makers for NBA teams and the Sonics were the only team in the NBA that shared that revenue. According to the Sonics and NBA, they lost money even if the Arena was sold out capacity. It is unfortunate that the egos of Greg Nickels & Howard Schultz did not allow for a renegotiation to happen, and it was unfortunate that Greg Nickels rolled over for Clay Bennett by settling a lawsuit we were winning, let the Sonics leave, and left $30 million on the table by not getting a new arena deal done. Between the $45 million in the settlement and the $30 million the City should have received that would have covered over a 1/3 of the public contribution of this current arena proposal from Chris Hansen.

The region missed a sizable payday from the Bennett et. al. and is poised to miss out on another opportunity, one that is being widely hailed as the a best arena deal in the US in terms of public-private partnerships. The concerns from the Port of Seattle regarding traffic are not new, but this needs to be address in SEPA process. SEPA will determine how much of an impact a SODO Arena will have on traffic and the environment and will guide mitigation of those impacts. Any claim that somehow SEPA will be ignored in this process is nothing short of lying and fear mongering.


I did work for NASCAR/International Speedway Corporation when they were proposing a racetrack in Bremerton and I would like to share a point from that  experience. Comparing NASCAR (one weekend a year) vs now defunct Kitsap Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) project, when it comes to traffic, a daily use for industrial purposes has a much larger impact on traffic of an intermittent use. I would suspect that SEPA will make the same determination in SODO.

What I took away from that is that traffic is just a straw opponents grab when they don’t like who is proposing the project. It’s fine if it’s a well-intentioned public boondoggle, but if it’s something or a group of people we dislike, well, that traffic is just going to be unbearable. It shouldn’t matter who proposes a project, it needs a fair evaluation on the merits of the proposal. That is everyone’s right, it’s called equal protection and due process under the law and it applies especially to the permitting process.

In regards to development in SODO, it isn’t a question of if, it’s a question of when. That’s part of what zoning does, this property will be developed, and when it does it will likely be more impactful on the Port of Seattle, not less.

It’s sad to me that Seattle makes decisions like a NIMBY when the region depends on Seattle to be an economic engine and place to gather for events, theater, music, arts, AND sporting events. All of those are a part of our culture. I cannot believe the push back from the “arts community” about this arena. Sports fans would never go out of their way to ruin something someone else loves, at least not intentionally or actively.

When I used to work for Norm Dicks, briefly as a campaign manager, I was always impressed with how he thought about representing his district. The running joke was, “that’s in my district.” Not technically, but Dicks always made it a point to represent ALL of Washington State, not one narrow interest, always the bigger picture and long-term thinking.

I hope that the Seattle City Council will put aside these narrow interests and look to the larger region and realize that this issue is bigger than any one local government.

I can’t tell you how much it would mean to me to see Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp together again in Seattle one last time to have their jersey numbers retired in front of their adoring fans.

We need to heal as a community and we should not be looking at issues that separate us. We can build another SODO arena and bring two new professional sports franchises to Seattle and have a thriving Port that creates family wage jobs. We can rebuild the viaduct, a new tunnel, redevelop the waterfront, and take a step back from the divisive rhetoric that is poisoning this debate.

Please support this proposal and let’s take a huge step forward in this community, stop being so risk averse, and build the city that the entire region can be proud of. Please bring back our Seattle Supersonics, don’t be the last nail in their coffin.

Longingly yours,

Kyle Alm

Lifelong Washington resident & Sonics fan

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