Seattle bylaw bars subsidies for sports: What about KeyArena deal?

Nick Licata and Chris Van Dyk say much has changed since Initiative 91 was crafted in 2006, and that it was never meant to be a “no tax” or “zero public expenditure” prohibition preventing the city from conducting business with private companies.

Inside sports business

Word last week that a planned $600 million renovation of KeyArena could be exempted from a city bylaw prohibiting sports subsidies has raised eyebrows locally.

But two creators of Initiative 91 said what’s most important is whether the bylaw’s “spirit’’ was followed during the city’s negotiation with Los Angeles-based developer Oak View Group (OVG).

Nick Licata and Chris Van Dyk said much has changed since I-91 was crafted in 2006, and that it was never meant to be a “no tax” or “zero public expenditure” prohibition preventing Seattle from conducting business with private companies.

Where they differ is on whether an I-91 exemption of OVG’s deal is truly the way to proceed. The city has suggested because it is putting no money into the project, I-91 doesn’t apply.

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But former city councilmember Licata notes the city put entrepreneur Chris Hansen’s proposed-arena plan for Sodo through a detailed financial formula in 2012 before declaring it I-91 compliant. He figures the same should happen this time.

“The last time, our goal was, ‘Does it meet the intent, even if it’s not necessarily the mechanism that’s perfect?’ ” Licata said. “You can calculate that.”

But Van Dyk, onetime leader of the activist group Citizens for More Important Things, said the biggest test of I-91 already was met during a Request for Proposals phase and the drafting of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that had input from various community leaders and groups.

“I’m just glad to see them spending a lot of their money,” he said of OVG. “Because there was an open, transparent, public-bidding process … I think the probability that the public was snookered is extremely low.”

Where this could be an issue is timing. OVG wants the MOU approved by the council in December and hopes a mandatory environmental-impact study concludes within a year so KeyArena can host an NHL expansion team for the 2020-21 season.

An ESPN report last week added more urgency by suggesting the NBA might hasten expansion or relocation if a Seattle arena plan is finalized. The report suggested…

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