Dissecting “LetterGate”

** All of these pre-February 2016 blog posts are reposts from my last website.  Each repost has a quick update or note in bold at the start of each post! **

Originally published April 5th, 2012

When Howard Lincoln’s letter to Seattle City Council members was made public last night, all you had to do was sit back and wait.  3…2…1… BOOM.  At first glance it’s easy to see this as the Mariners in CYA-mode.  You can certainly argue that the Mariners top interests out of this debate aren’t centered around the infrastructure of the SODO area, but instead are focused on preserving ticket dollars and sports market share.  Let’s be realistic here, it’s absolutely about competing dollars.  BUT, I think we need to step back and really breakdown Lincoln’s letter, as well as the letter from the Port Of Seattle.  (It’s easy to forget that the Mariners aren’t the only ones opposed to the prospective SODO location.)

“…the site of Safeco Field was chosen following a year-long public process that considered four or five alternate locations in King County.  The site was not dictated by the Mariners, or by any single interest.”  — Lincoln

At first glace this one is an easy one, right?  Jealously.  The Mariners are upset because they had to jump thru hoops (no pun intended) to find a location with the city, while Hansen is able to step right in.  The fact that Hansen has purchased land and is personally financing the majority of the arena’s construction certainly gives him that right.  But I think there’s something else at play here too that I will discuss later in the article:  Were the Mariners really sold on Safeco Field’s location at the onset of construction in 1997?  I think there’s an argument that could be made that the answer was no.

“Cities and neighborhoods like Bellevue, Renton, Seattle Center, South Lake Union and others should all be given careful consideration as a potential home for the new arena.”  — Lincoln

“Memorial Stadium area have served as sports and entertainment venues for decades, and transportation access will substantially improve with the Mercer Corridor projects and the new SR 99 tunnel…” — Port Of Seattle

Step back for a minute.  Take Seattle Mariners off of the letterhead.  Scratch out Howard Lincoln’s signature on the bottom of the page.  What’s off base about advocating other locations?  Jerry Brewer made a great comment on KJR 2 months back, that putting another arena down by Qwest and Safeco didn’t add anything to the area.  He was talking about the stuff to DO down there.  Unlike a lot of other cities I’ve been too, Safeco is down in a corner of Seattle that doesn’t have a lot to do or see.  Think about it, if you want to catch a bite to eat, what’s there within about a 6 block radius?  Not a whole lot.  Dropping a third complex on the edge of downtown is all good and nice, but if they’re going to do it, they need to promote and grow businesses and restaurant availability in the immediate area.  That’s where better locations come in.  The SODO area is too developed with industry to knock out, but the Seattle Center area is not.  Look at the difference in SODO vs Seattle Center — Which area has more room to grow?  Imagine starting from scratch at the Seattle Center.  Knock it down.  All of it.  How great would a new arena and walking mall, restaurants and development be next to the Space Needle and EMP?

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“A new 20,000 seat arena would attract upwards of 8,700 vehicles for each event….which potentially conflicts with cargo operations in an area that already suffers from congestion. This issue could be magnified in cases of overlapping events…” — Port Of Seattle

“The proposed SODO location, in our view, simply does not work.  It would bring scheduling, traffic and parking challenges that would likely require hundreds of millions of dollars to mitigate…. Without highly restrictive scheduling limitations, traffic gridlock would put all of the area’s teams at risk…. We have learned the hard way that overlapping events at two facilities do not work.  They produce a very poor fan experience, and traffic gridlock for area businesses.”  — Lincoln

Something that came to light today that I wasn’t aware of were the city restrictions on the Mariners and Seahawks schedules.  Hearing Chuck Armstrong state that they wanted to have more day games, but were restricted to six by the city, was news to me.  I did know about the 4hr window on event overlap.  So many fans have talked about the NBA and NHL only affecting a handful of dates per year, but what fans aren’t accounting for is that arenas are income properties.  The are not fueled strictly by a professional franchise.  Over an 82 game season, it’s the property managers job to fill the other 200+ available days a year.  We aren’t talking about 6 days in April or June when schedules might overlap — we’re talking about multiple days in April… in May… in June… you get the picture.  Drive downtown when the Mariners, Seahawks, or Sounders are getting in or out of a game — What?  You don’t?  Right, because it’s a huge pain.  If you aren’t stuck at the train tracks, you’re waiting for thousands of cars to slowly filter out.  Multiply that by 2 now, and all in downtown SODO.  Oh, and that wait at the Pyramid or Jimmy’s, or in the beergarden across the street?  Those lines just got longer too.  Would another arena downtown drive business, or choke it?

“Earlier plans promised three east-west grade-separated connections in the SODO area to serve the high volumes of commercial truck traffic and general-purpose traffic.  Only one connector suitable for heavy trucks was completed… We do not believe that the traffic analysis conducted for the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement contemplated a new traffic generator like a sports arena.”  — Port Of Seattle

Both the Mariners and Port Of Seattle letters argued that the infrastructure is not in place to accommodate a new arena.  Especially concerning is the fact that original plans included two other access points to the SODO area that haven’t been completed.  Conversely, the area adjacent to the Seattle Center is undergoing a major overhaul that would improve traffic accessibility to the area within 2-3yrs.

There’s one point I wanted to come back around to, and that’s the question of whether the Mariners were truly sold on Safeco Fields location?  Chuck Armstrong was on the Brock and Salk show this afternoon on 710 ESPN Seattle and I know he’s scheduled to be on 950 SportsRadio KJR this afternoon.  Comments Armstrong made later on 97.3FM that Hansen would “rue the day” he built an arena in SODO is telling.  (It was also a really poor choice of words, that are already haunting him online.)  Do the Mariners wish that Safeco had been built in a different location?  Armstrong stated that the Mariners were part of a committee that vetted 4 different locations before settling on the current spot on 1st Ave South, and that during that time they were promised a second offramp off of Lander.  When you look at the 7,000 parking spot reduction referenced in Lincoln’s letter, as well as the freeway exit that was closed, and the other that was completely revamped into a funnel on Edgar Martinez drive, you have to ask that question.  Is it that the Mariners are completely against Hansen’s plan (certainly some of it, sure,) or is it that they’ve seen how the Mariners got completely hosed by the city after construction at Safeco Field?  Armstrong was very pointed during his interview, and was just as up front about the challenges that the Mariners are seeing from city restrictions.  The Mariners want to have more day games, but are limited by the city to six.  The Mariners are OK with other events in the immediate area, but are limited by the city to a 4hr restricted window.  I think Armstrong’s comments are very clear — The downtown teams are getting railroaded (no pun intended) from scheduling and/or operating business like they would really want to because of city restrictions.  Are the Mariners in a roundabout way trying to save Hansen from a similar fate… while still preserving area market share?  You can kill two birds with one stone.

I understand why the Mariners are opposed to the proposed NBA/NHL arena location.  From a business POV, I understand it completely!  I also understand why fans would be upset, because they see a letter like this and think that Mariners are trying to undermine the whole deal.  Filter the message.  Is the SODO location truly the best choice for an upcoming NBA/NHL arena?   I think the answer is pretty clearly no.

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