Take a hard look at arena deal

May 31, 2012

By Contributor

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This area has a long history of skepticism when it comes to building sports facilities. Let’s put that attitude to good use when reviewing the proposal for a new basketball — and possibly hockey — arena in Seattle.

Though it may seem like a Seattle problem, the arena will have an impact here on the Eastside. In direct terms, the county is on the hook for up to $80 million, if certain conditions are met.

Where is this big chunk of money supposed to come from? Aren’t they about to ask us for a bond to build a juvenile justice center? Why is there money for a glorified basketball court, but not a justice center?

A possibly large, indirect impact on the Eastside could be the effect of the arena on freight mobility.

The Port of Seattle, of course, generates billions of dollars of commerce and provides tens of thousands of good, blue-collar jobs. Any arena must not disrupt port operations.

Though a recent traffic study says it shouldn’t be a problem, caution is warranted. If projections are off, and shippers find their goods delayed by sports fans, they’ll start sending their boats to other places.

And the tax revenue projections must be scrutinized. Economists who study arenas often find that sales taxes generated by arenas are not “new money.” Sure, you pay sales taxes on that hot dog and soda, but that usually means one fewer hot dog and soda bought at a restaurant. The stadium doesn’t mean people suddenly have a larger budget for entertainment, it just means that the dollars are doled out in different places.

All that said, there is a lot to like about the proposal.

It seems to offer more protections for the public than some past arena proposals. Private money will provide the lion’s share of the financing. It will create jobs, first in construction and then in operations. It would feel good to have the Sonics back.

And of course, every one of the thousands of screaming fans is also a taxpayer.

Just don’t let the excitement of getting to see the Sonics play override protecting the county’s fiscal interests.

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