Seattle’s plans to build a new sports facility has been as hectic as watching a game itself.
On Sept. 24, the Seattle City Council approved a deal to help build a new sports arena in the SoDo area, to bring professional men’s basketball and hockey back to the city.
Chris Hansen, the arena’s investor and wealthy hedge-fund manager, won approval from initially skeptical City Councilmembers for a $200 million new arena after promising to personally guarantee the City’s debt payments.
Sports fans rejoiced. Since the SuperSonics moved to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder in 2008, fans have been devastated, making a spot on Forbes’ “Most Miserable Sports Cities” list in 2011 and throwing a “Bring ‘em Back!” Sonics rally back in June.
Weiyi Li, a student at the University of Washington and fan said, “The fact that the issue is garnering so much attention is a testament to how much Seattle wants an NBA team. Seattelites believe that having basketball is an important part of the culture of their city.”
But while fans are celebrating, businesses in the International District are wondering how they will be affected by having another stadium as a neighbor, on top of CenturyLink Stadium and Safeco Field.
“We’re in the middle of two large stadium facilities, a downtown commercial core, and a waterfront that’s vibrant and brings a lot of people in,” said Don Blakeney, executive director of the Chinatown International District Business Improvement Area (CIDBIA). “It creates a lot of questions about how people can still enjoy our neighborhood.”
Although there are 85 restaurants in the Chinatown/ID and thousands of people in traffic going in and out of the stadiums, it has still been a challenge for businesses to reap the benefits that come from the neighboring stadiums.
Wendy Lu has heard a lot of complaints about the sports stadiums over the years while working at Green Village Restaurant in the C/ID.
“Traffic will get worse. When people know it’s a game day their first thought is not to come in, not to come to the neighborhood. A lot of merchants complain [that] most of the time there is no business,” said Lu.
With parking lots in SoDo charging up to $40 for a space, parking in the ID is in high demand, which has become an issue for some businesses in the area.
CenturyLink Stadium and Safeco Field have had partnerships with the Chinatown/ID advertising the neighborhood in game day booklets, playing a video about the neighborhood on the big screen, and soon they will be allowing a couple of restaurants to serve outside the stadiums during games with food trucks.
But certain types of sports attract certain types of fans.
“Most people are not going to patron us. Restaurants with reputations will get business and I’m very lucky to always have regulars. But most people don’t come to restaurants. They just want some beer and wine and appetizers,” said Lu. “Businesses are for bars.”
Fort St. George is one of the handful of bars in the Chinatown/ID and is often bustling with sports fans before and after games, according to owner Ikuko Maekawa. But the bar and restaurant becomes slower than usual while the games are taking place.
“People park here, walk across the street and spend their money in Pioneer Square. How do we make people comfortable here?” said Blakeney.
“The ID needs to be renovated and cleaned up; build a livelier and more vibrant feel. That’ll bring a lot of people here,” believes Quang Lam, a student at the University of Washington who often goes to sports events in the stadium district. “It can be mutually beneficial. If the ID wasn’t a place people wanted to avoid, they’d get a lot of business.”
Earlier in May, Blakeney, along with members from the Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority (SCIDpda), Wing Luke Museum, and InterIm CDA attended a meeting with Mayor Mike McGinn concerning the arena’s possible impact on the Chinatown/ID and proposed mitigations.
The coalition proposed several mitigations, including funding that enhances the Chinatown/ID, pedestrian improvements across 4th Avenue South, a clearer sense of plans for development in SoDo, an update of the parking/traffic plans for the existing stadiums, an update to the existing sanitation plans for the stadium district, and a feasibility study and investment in a parking structure that could help serve the additional stadium patrons.
One of the members present at a similar meeting in 1972 was Frank Irigon, who protested against the Kingdome construction. Some of the concerns at the time were that the new stadium would displace residents in the neighborhood, create traffic congestion, and sprout stadium related developments like parking lots and motels.
At the Kingdome ground-breaking in November 1972, about 40 young Asian Americans, Irigon included, disrupted the ceremony, chanting “Stop the stadium” and hurling mud at the dignitaries.
Irigon predicts that if the proposed mitigations for the upcoming arena aren’t met, he would have no problem marching again to disrupt the third arena.
The coalition hopes to meet with developer Chris Hansen soon to figure out what support he can give the Chinatown/ID and other surrounding neighborhoods that will have to coexist with a new third stadium.
“People think that the struggle is over,” said Irigon. “They think we can get things done at the ballot and yet some people don’t even vote. People should know that this is a neighborhood and it should be respected. They should know that this neighborhood is an endangered species.”