Sports enthusiasts in Seattle let out a hearty cheer this week when the National Basketball Association gave tentative approval to a plan that would bring professional basketball back to the city, but a proposed downtown arena to house the team could be a loser for the Port of Seattle.
The site investors have proposed for the basketball and hockey arena is just south of Seattle’s downtown area and uncomfortably close to the Total Terminals Inc. container facility that Hanjin Shipping calls home.
Hanjin accounts for about 20 percent of Seattle’s container traffic. In addition to the port truck traffic and daily vehicular traffic in the downtown area, the nearby Seattle Mariners Major League Baseball team creates traffic surges on game days.
Local transportation, environmental and labor interests, led by International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 19, support the city’s attempt to attract professional basketball back to Seattle, but they want the arena to be constructed somewhere else.
The ILWU filed a lawsuit, charging that the city of Seattle and King County violated the State Environmental Policy Act by choosing the site without considering alternative locations. The suit also charges that the city and county did not properly account for the environmental and traffic impact of operating another sports venue in the vicinity of the busy container terminal.
Seattle is one of the few U.S. cities to have a historic and charming downtown area adjacent to a thriving seaport. Seattle in 2012 handled 1.9 million 20-foot container units.
John McLaurin, president of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, noted this week in a blog for The Journal of Commerce that developers have coveted Seattle’s waterfront for “boutique hotels, condos and stadiums” rather than for its port activities.
The PMSA has joined the ILWU, Washington state transportation committees, the Seattle Planning Commission, BNSF Railway, which has an intermodal yard in the vicinity, and other transportation interests in opposing construction of the arena south of downtown.
Supporters include the mayor, developers and some high-powered Washington-based companies, including Microsoft.
The port administration would like to see the issue go away, and port executives have been working quietly behind the scenes to educate the city administration and the community about the hazards of mixing arena traffic with heavy-duty trucks.
Seattle’s port commission scored an important victory in December when Hanjin’s terminal operator, Total Terminals Inc., extended its lease with the port for 10 years.
The agreement includes an amendment that says the port commission and Hanjin recognize the potential traffic congestion that would result if an arena is built, and commits the city and the port to work together to lessen the impact of the additional traffic if the arena is built.
Construction of the arena, as well as the possible sale of the Sacramento Kings basketball team to the Seattle investors, are not yet done deals, but the NBA announcement has raised the level of intensity from the opposition.