Sonics arena at risk, barring late heroics

Following yesterday's Seattle City Council vote that denied developer Chris Hansen's request to build a new sports arena on Occidental Avenue, two sentiments top my thoughts.
     First, let me make it clear: these are my views, not PEMCO's.
     The two sentiments are disappointment and frustration.
     Disappointment, in that the 5-4 council vote kills a great opportunity. Much has been debated about how Occidental Avenue does or does not serve as a relief valve for Port of Seattle freight traffic.
     Regardless, Chris Hansen now must reassess the viability of a new NBA arena on his SoDo property. Though he said yesterday that the vote isn't "the end of the road," pragmatically it could be. As a lifelong Sonics fan, I'm disappointed.
     My frustration takes two forms. One, too much has been made of a report from architectural firm AECOM saying that KeyArena could be remodeled as an NBA and NHL home for $285 million.
     It's not realistic to believe that's a plausible alternative to Hansen's arena.
     As sports columnist Art Thiel has reasoned several times, such a remodel is not supported by the key parties: Hansen, the NBA, or the NHL. Hansen is not offering his own money to remodel KeyArena as a permanent Sonics home. It's a public building in what amounts to a public park – Seattle Center. And the city has not exactly succeeded at running KeyArena as a profitable sports venue.
     For KeyArena to get rebuilt, it needs a wealthy donor (none has stepped forward) or a "yes" vote from Seattle taxpayers (which won't happen until pigs fly).
     Also, for AECOM's rebuild plan to work – options are limited because of the buttresses that support KeyArena's unique roof – patrons would sit in seats averaging 19 inches wide.
     I don't know about you, but my moderately sized fanny gets cramped when wedged into a slot that slim. For comparison, the standard coach airline seat measures about 17.5 inches.
     My other frustration is my inescapable bent for nostalgia Exactly 37 years before yesterday's 5-4 council vote, the Seattle Sonics beat the Phoenix Suns 103-97 in game 2 of the NBA Western Conference Finals, a thrilling series the Sonics eventually won May 17, 1979, after having fallen behind 3 games to 2.
     Seattle won game 7  behind gutsy efforts from Jack Sikma (33 points, 11 rebounds), Gus Williams (29 points), and Lonnie Shelton (26 points), sealing the 114-110 win in the closing seconds. Winning the subsequent NBA Finals over the Bullets 4 games to 1 was a breeze in comparison.
     I only hope that Hansen, or another Sonics suitor, also can rescue Seattle's NBA hopes as time winds down.

by  Jon Osterberg



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