As the Oklahoma City Thunder charged through the playoffs to the NBA Finals this season, many basketball fans in Seattle were left with the bittersweet feeling of watching their former team succeed elsewhere. In 2008, the Supersonics left Seattle after years of battling with local lawmakers. In Oklahoma City, a new arena awaited. Now, hedge fund manager and Seattle native Chris Hansen is proposing a new arena in the city’s stadium district with hopes of luring new NBA and NHL franchises to the Emerald City.
Washington has been slow to recover from the great recession. The construction trades in the region are still experiencing 40 percent unemployment despite some hugely successful infrastructure projects. The Hansen proposal includes a $290 million private investment as well as a projected $500 million to obtain a new NBA franchise. Likely to be built under a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) that would ensure local hiring, the arena proposal is gaining support in the Seattle region. A recent op-ed in the Seattle Times, co-authored by Seattle Building and Construction Trades Council president Lee Nugent, pledged support for Hansen’s efforts:
The recent unemployment reports reminded us of that fragility with an increase in the unemployment rate in Washington state. We should not pass on this unique opportunity to support our local workforce.
These jobs are real. And they’re desperately needed. Construction jobs are family-wage jobs — when the construction trades are still experiencing 40 percent unemployment, every new job is vital.
Perhaps more interesting is that local officials and labor leaders are supporting the proposal for the integrity of the proposal and not just for the possible franchises that will result from its construction:
The arena proposal, as submitted by Mayor Mike McGinn and King County Executive Dow Constantine to their respective councils, creates jobs and protects important city and county services. We believe Hansen’s arena proposal is the best deal for the public of any sports stadium built here in nearly 75 years.
The unprecedented security provisions in the memorandum of understanding, as negotiated with Hansen, significantly shield the city and county general funds from risk.
We feel confident that even in the highly unlikely event of an ownership group’s bankruptcy, critical funding for job-training programs, shelters, emergency services and other core functions of government will go unscathed. We would not support the construction of the new arena if we doubted the sturdiness of those protections. We encourage you to review those security provisions on the city’s website.
If the proposal is passed, the construction of a new arena will stimulate the economy by employing engineers, architects, and members of the construction trades and by providing a new industry in the winter months where the stadium district currently sits stagnant waiting for baseball season to return.
Common sense tells us that the arena will support existing and new jobs in Seattle as a whole. The return of the Sonics means the city would have sporting events during the winter months. Those events would support the hospitality and tourism industry — the NBA and NHL seasons alone could fill at least 5,000 hotel room nights per season.
The construction of the arena would generate more than an estimated $15 million in sales-tax revenue for the state, revenue sorely needed now after years of devastating cuts to education and basic human services. This supports jobs, too.
Stadium proposals can be a tricky situation and many never come to fruition. But the San Francisco 49ers, Minnesota Vikings, and Sacramento Kings have all sought out PLAs in the past year to boost their economies and erect new structures in which to root, root, root. The stadium being spearheaded by Chris Hansen appears fiscally responsible and could provide some much needed relief, right on time, to tradesmen and women in the Pacific Northwest.