Whether or not Seattle might get an NBA team now is a decision that might be left in fate’s hands, but regardless of the prospects, building a new arena in SODO to accommodate both an NBA and NHL carries huge implications. The partnership that was brokered between a private hedge fund manager and the City would essentially site the arena directly south of the Safeco Field parking garage, making a kind of chain of sports complexes from north to south. Although there’s a bit of a populist flair in marketing a mega-sports district, I think there’s plenty not to like in this proposal planning-wise.
Transit, for one, gets a good shaft considering the fact that the nearest two stations, SODO and Stadium, are well out of walking distance for many people, at 0.7 miles a piece. For the huge crowds that a major-league event might draw, you could argue that fans are more willing to bear the brunt of the walk especially given the relatively high costs of event parking. But consider this– just as many Seahawks fans use Stadium Station to get to CenturyLink Field (despite International District’s closer proximity), a great deal of transit-riding NBA fans would do the same, and have to traverse through WSDOT’s monstrous new SR-519 ramps, scant pedestrian facilities, and a cruddy street grid to get to the arena.
For land use, the implications are even greater. The revitalization argument is a bit of a two-edged sword– as event-based destinations, sports complexes alone don’t make for good urban amenities, especially since non-use most of the time creates large dead zones with little to no activity. Seeing as our existing professional sports arenas and stadiums are no exceptions to this even now, stringing them together would add little value and only help reinforce bad segregation-based planning principles from the past.
For the City to hedge its bets on a bunch of cheap land is probably a poor investment decision that especially doesn’t further the cause of promoting density, transit, and the great neighborhoods that should go hand in hand. As vital as sports are to Seattle’s cultural fabric, planning for their facilities are almost always a one-sided affair with limited appeal to the city as a whole. If we want great civic life to come first, however, we should treat our sports complexes not as event destinations, but amenities within our urban landscape. This proposal falls well short of that.