The last time we had a civic discussion about a new basketball/hockey arena, let’s just say it didn’t go well. There was politically convenient fear mongering about our Working Waterfront and industrial jobs. There was the hypocritical HIGHF (Hey! I Got Here First!) form of corporate NIMBYism from the Seattle Mariners. There was charmingly predictable concern trolling about traffic, where disaster is always around the corner if only _insert project_ is built. To top it off, many arena supporters then poisoned the well by bitterly gendering their disgust.
While we’re still no closer to bringing leather balls and wooden sticks back to Seattle, the recent proposal by developer Chris Hansen offers us the welcome chance of a civic redo. In one fell swoop, his offer to plug the funding gap for the Lander Street Overpass protects Port interests while improving traffic outcomes; and his proposal to build the new arena without public funding relieves us of another reason for (legitimate) infighting.
A contestable premise: Stadia don’t belong in urban neighborhoods, they belong on the urban-industrial edge. Stadia are infrequently used, special purpose structures that fragment neighborhoods. As the most egregious example, Husky Stadium is used less than 10 times per year. On account of those select fall Saturdays, thousands of bus passengers have to walk farther to transfer every day, thousands of students and faculty cannot live nearer their university, and hundreds of acres of asphalt lay mostly idle.
If we build a new arena in Sodo, we should tear down the Key and return housing to Seattle Center. Seattle 2035 calls for “Uptown” (Lower Queen Anne) to be an Urban Center, the same designation as Capitol Hill, Downtown, or Northgate. Just a mile from downtown, LQA currently only houses about 10,000 people in predominantly low-rise structures, or only 1.5% of the city’s population. If ST3 passes, a subway station will be located two blocks away at Queen Anne/Mercer, with quick access to Ballard, South Lake Union, Downtown, the Rainier Valley, and SeaTac. Lower Queen Anne needs people, not occasional large events.
Key Arena sits on 48 historic parcels covering most of 4 city blocks, and it’s only used for 18 Storm games and every 3 weeks or so for concerts and other events. If there were a successful renovation and if that were to draw a team, you could add another 40 days a year of activation. But that would still leave 280 days a year in which people would walk, bike, bus, train, and drive around it as an obstacle, rather than to it as a destination.
Stadia on the periphery are much better for a city and its residents. Upper Sodo is perfect for sports, acting as a partially-activated and aesthetically pleasing bridge between an urban core and heavy industry. LQA and the Mercer Mess will never work well for SOV access, and if we build the neighborhood for people that’s kinda the point. The subway station we hope to build should be accessible to as many Seattleites as possible as often as possible. Since the top of Queen Anne is set to be ossified as a Single-Family Zone, the four blocks of Key Arena offer precious mid or high-rise capacity. And with a 135′ arena already on site, tall housing is already ‘in scale’.
Sodo will never be good for dense housing, but LQA will. LQA will never be good for SOV access, but Sodo will. And while Sodo is less transit-accessible than LQA will be, better to solve an occasional problem than limit an everyday social good (housing). Mr. Murray, tear down this Key.