Sponsors of I-91 tell others to heed vote
Seattle Times staff reporters
If Seattle speaks, should other cities around the state have to listen?
They should, argue sponsors of Seattle's recently approved Initiative 91, which limits taxpayer subsidies for a new Sonics arena.
Backers of I-91 on Friday called on other cities, such as Bellevue, to heed the message sent by the three-fourths of Seattle voters who favored I-91.
"This vote reflected not just the will of the people of Seattle. It reflected sentiment statewide," Chris Van Dyk, organizer for Citizens for More Important Things, said at a news conference.
The notion that I-91 will have any sway outside Seattle was rejected by a Sonics spokesman and other suburban leaders.
"We've got no sense from any of the cities we're looking at that there is any concern [about I-91]," said Jim Kneeland, a public-relations consultant working for the Oklahoma City-based owners of the Sonics and Storm.
Sen. Margarita Prentice, D-Renton, one of the Sonics' biggest legislative allies, said I-91 won't stop her efforts to secure an arena deal in the suburbs.
"It's one thing for them to wish ill on their own facility [KeyArena]," Prentice said, "but for them to try to spread that to other communities is really delusional and irresponsible."
Bellevue developer Bob Wallace said the idea that the state and other cities should honor the results of I-91 is "ridiculous."
"Just because the city of Seattle took an unfortunate vote doesn't necessarily mean the rest of the state should follow suit," Wallace said.
However, Wallace said he does not believe the Legislature, where Seattle Democrats hold key leadership positions, will devote tax money to a suburban arena when it failed to do the same for KeyArena.
One major Bellevue developer, Kemper Freeman, thinks a basketball arena could still get built in the suburbs largely with private money.
Freeman, who said he speaks with Sonics owner Clay Bennett about once a week, said I-91 confirms what he has believed for a while: The public is fed up with subsidies for pro sports.
"The interest in putting a major subsidy in another [facility] is as close to zero as it can get," Freeman said. Citizens "feel like they've done more than their share."
Freeman said he was "optimistic" about Bellevue's chances of landing the team.
Freeman said the new owners are looking at several sites on the Eastside for a new arena, but he said the most likely site is somewhere in the Bel-Red Corridor, a 900-acre stretch of aging warehouses and office parks along Bellevue-Redmond Road that the city is studying for redevelopment. The corridor includes the site of the old Safeway distribution center, a 75-acre property near Interstate 405 and Highway 520.
Van Dyk, along with representatives of SEIU Local 775 — the nursing-home workers' union that funded the I-91 campaign — vowed to file additional initiatives in other cities if necessary to block a taxpayer-funded Sonics arena.
Adam Glickman, spokesman for the union, said lawmakers should spend taxpayer money on priorities such as health care and schools.
Van Dyk called on the Legislature and the Sonics to "respect and honor" I-91's message by submitting any arena package requiring substantial taxpayer dollars to a public vote.
Bennett has said he does not believe a public vote is needed if an arena is paid for with extensions of existing taxes on hotels, restaurants and car rentals, which paid for Qwest and Safeco fields.
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company