Phil Caldwell

Sports Blogging With a Grin

Posts Tagged ‘Frank Stagen

Seattle To Get a New Privately-Funded Retractable-Roof Waterfront Arena and Concert venue?

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(Originally published in Bleacher Report on 10/3/2011)

Don’t look now kids, but remember that wild retractable roof basketball arena that Fred Brown proposed?  The one we all forgot about?

Well rumors are flowing that the concept might not be dead after all, and in-fact is very much alive.  There’s a big group of high-powered suited architects with designer haircuts frantically working on conceptual plans to present to the city.  Names known to many but will not be mentioned here.

Back in 2008 during the failed negotiations to save the professional basketball for Seattle, out of the blue came a rather radical vision led by former Sonic Fred Brown and public-relations executive Dave Bean, to build a new privately funded project known as the Emerald City Center.

It would be a $1 billion sports and exposition complex that would include a a retractable roof arena capable of housing both an NBA and NHL franchise.

Once fans across Seattle stopped laughing and listened to the proposal, it wasn’t as crazy as it sounded.  In fact, it was sorta cool.

Especially since Seattle had a popular “Summer Nights on the Pier” concert series located at Pier 62/63 along Alaskan Way, that was sucking in tourists from across the planet.  That was until, the pier deteriorated so badly that the series had to be relocated.

But it was a big hit all summer long when it was going on, with 18-22 concerts played by well-known artists on warm summer nights with private small craft swaying to soft waves midst the setting sun.  Glistening waters of the Puget Sound, seagulls in the night, the Olympics beyond.  The works!

A huge tourist draw, but the venue was too small for the really big acts.

Seven years ago all the sports stations in Seattle were summoned for a new radical idea for a retractable roof basketball arena on the Seattle waterfront.  Fred Brown’s group didn’t have the funding, nor a secure site, nor even a plan, other than a conceptual plastic model on cardboard.  Hardly the kind of fiscal structure necessary to get the project rolling.

Enter Seattle developer and high-end residential consultant Nitze-Stagen & Co, who has been trying to wrest control of the 89 acre Pier 46 site from the Port of Seattle since before 2003, which back then leased it to the agency’s largest shipping customer, Hanjin, for 10 years with an option to extend it another five.

The Port, with their tight lease deals already signed,  has long scoffed at this group of developers, according to Frank Stagen, who claimed back in 2004 that one port official mocked “You don’t own one spoonful of the dirt” when Stagen’s group were probing for planning details and irritating DCLU officials for info.

Things have moved along ever since.

In fact Nitze-Stagen, the same group that just cut dirt on the new North Lot apartment project by Centurylink Field, and is involved with massively redeveloping parts of the Pioneer Square area, has a glitzy website with snazzy schematic drawings bragging about this Pier 46 project.

Entitled “Vision 46,” the debate for the site was between Containers vs Condos.  Nitze-Stagen argues the entire cargo area, which was created from backfill during the 1970s, should today be redeveloped with a mix of high-density urban village activities, such as a major hotel, thousands of housing units and offices, a cruise ship terminal, retail, education and even a trolley line.

Included in residential buildings and commercial space, is…ahem…an anchor arena building right on the water, that looks very similar to what Fred Brown’s group proposed in 2008.  A new basketball/hockey arena, just perfect for concerts and whatever else might want to retract a roof.

It’s the perfect location too.  Located at the south entrance of the new waterfront tunnel project, there’s already existing freeway connections to nearby Safeco Field, the convention center and the football/soccer stadium.

With all the connections already built, it’s a cinch.  Plus it’s close enough to the ferry’s for walkers, and light rail already connects the area too.  What’s not to love?

And with construction gearing up as the viaduct is about to be razed, the timing appears perfect too. Which is why architects are working frantically behind-the-scenes, on drawings and budgets, and why this group just managed to get the Longshoreman union to agree to let someone else use this site.

A big huge deal and reportedly THE major hurdle that was holding everything up.

Rumored to be key in this project is a retractable roof arena design.  And why not? 

On the water, large crowds of 20-25,000 could swoon to summer tunes with a removed roof in the summer.  Shows wouldn’t have to worry about the weather, because any formerly rained-out events could still carry on.

Especially if the venue was open on the water side, with a “U” shaped arena bowl facing fans towards the Olympic Mountain Range.

Imagine a new Sonics team playing Game 7 of the finals under partly cloudy skies with the water in background.  Imagine an NHL team doing the same.  Or a national political convention with sunsets and flying fish.

Not so crazy an idea after all, now is it?  But enough to get city nimrods on board who still look stupid for their comments about how the Sonics offered no cultural value?

This project has something for everyone, and with private developers leading the charge, we might actually be looking at a viable candidate,  in terms of proposed arenas in the Seattle area that have a chance to be built!

OKC Thunder: Oklahoma Fans Enjoy Fruits of Dirty Deeds Done While in Seattle

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Remodelofkeyarena_crop_340x234As the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder were motoring through the playoffs before finally losing to Dallasin the Western Conference finals last night, rumblings in Seattle suggest fans are still cranky about all of this.

At halftime of Game 5, Sonicgate folks were rolling out another videodesigned to remind the nation that Oklahoma’s success was at the expense of what went down in Seattle five years prior.

Meanwhile, fan forums in Oklahoma City and many other NBA cities suggest David Stern’s media campaign of lying and distorting the truth, done prior to the move, was effective in deceiving the national public about Seattle’s commitment to it’s team.

But the  war of words continues, as Seattle’s basketball fans will not drop the issue.

On a newspaper forum in Oklahoma City, “Danny,” a hallucinogenic fan writing as if he represented the average person in Seattle, claimed that folks in the Pacific Northwest did not care about any of this, and were  apathetic about their Sonics basketball team.

This, he claimed, was the true reason that the team  left after 41 years.  A message seen frequently in fan comments in Oklahoma City, as if the Thunder faithful wrestle with guilt at their new-found fortune.

Yet in Seattle, outspoken but powerless fan groups seem to be gaining momentum. Just last week the Washington State legislature assembled a task force to explore building a new NBA/NHL arena in the Seattle area.

Sonicgate_crop_340x234

Seattle fans have always been the most  passionate and loyal in the country. During the early 1980s following the team’s 1978-79 NBA championship season, 35,000-45,000 Seattle fans routinely jammed the rafters of the Kingdome for regular season games.

While the NBA was packing their bags, a rival professional sports league, soccer’s MLS, discovered that its most successful and best-supported franchise in league history, was surprisingly located in the very same market the NBA abandoned. Teams have since been added in  Vancouver and Portland, creating crazed rivalries between the three Northwest communities.

Five years earlier, basketball fans in Seattle were put in the awkward situation of how to respond to new out-of-town owner Clay Bennett’s devious deeds. Bennett, whose emails have since confirmed, was attempting to make the Sonics as terrible as possible to justify moving the team to his hometown.

Players were kept far away from local media interviews, fan favorites like  Ray Allenwere dealt for draft picks that wouldn’t be productive until years in the future and the team rolled out its worst record in franchise history during its last in Seattle.

Seattle fans had to choose between boycotting games to punish the person trying to move their team or attending games and thereby enabling him to get away with it. Either way, the fans would lose in the end.

Following their appearance in the NBA  Finals 1995-96, Seattle had endured what it considered an inept general manager, Wally Walker, making terrible basketball decisions. These included the firing of popular coach George Karl, who had led Seattle to seven straight years of 60-win seasons, plus puzzling free agent signings of mediocre centers, none of whom worked out.

Newkeyarena_crop_340x234New Key Arena with, entire interior rebuilt and luxury suites added, opening for the 1995-96 season

All this was tolerated by an inept owner, Howard Schultz, who eventually traded all-NBA defensive star Gary Payton in a power dispute. The team continued a downward trend, highlighted by the stunning announcement in 2006, that Oklahoman Clay Bennett had purchased the team for $75 million more than it was worth.

But the situation started a decade prior, when then-owner Barry Ackerley demanded a new arena to replace the dilapidated Seattle Coliseum, which was built for the World’s Fair in 1962.

Plans for a new NBA/NHL stadium were rolled out that would be located where today’s Safeco Field now stands, but those plans were discarded when Ackerley picked the option designed specifically to keep the NHL out of Seattle.

Key Arena was built large enough for the best sight lines in the league but small enough to keep it ever from being attractive to professional hockey. The existing hockey floor can only be viewed by half the patrons, running under the west end of the seating area.

Still, the arena was brand-new in 1995, not the remodeled retread that commissioner David Stern claimed in his now infamous New York press conference in April of 2008.

If you remember, during the tug-of-war with Oklahoma City, the NBA Commissioner claimed that Seattle hadn’t built the NBA an  arena since 1962 and scolded reporters when they tried to correct him. The truth was the paint hadn’t dried on Key Arena before the Sonics and the NBA were back demanding another new arena.

Originalcoliseum_crop_340x234Original Seattle arena prior to complete rebuild in 1995, including floor being lowered 35ft and luxury suites added

Contrary to what Stern claimed, Seattle had actually built the Sonics the first new professional sports stadium, prioritizing the team over the NFL and MLB. The city didn’t ignore the demands of the Sonics like Stern claimed, and David Stern and the NBA not only approved the plans for the new 1995 arena, but also enthusiastically endorsed it after it was built—on  video too.

Five years later the same David Stern was infuriated when, facing the Washington State legislature while begging for more public funds, representatives like Frank Chopp reminded Mr. Stern in very terse and direct language that they had just built the Sonics a new arena.

Still, that didn’t stop new owner Clay Bennett from demanding a new $500 million arena in 2007—funded entirely by taxpayers, of course—to justify moving the team when the community refused.

This while  stripping the team of talent and accumulating draft picks for the future.

Consequently, today’s Thunder team is winning as a direct result of all the deliberate losing in Seattle. The team includes a handful of top-five lottery picks, all attained from losing seasons in Seattle and trading off Sonic veterans.

Most infuriating to fans of Seattle today is that the team has been in Oklahoma for a mere three years but has already enjoyed two years of playoffs, with the latest deep into the Western Conference finals. Clearly Bennett’s plans have worked well, but at the expense of Seattle.

Fanstryingtosaveteam_crop_340x234Desperate Seattle Fans attempt to save team in 2008

Meanwhile, in other cities, players are teaming up in major markets like typical playground bullies, leaving smaller markets like Cleveland in disarray.

But what the NBA wasn’t counting on were the same abandoned fans in Seattle taking matters into their own hands while educating the masses.

Grassroots organizations likesonicsgate.org continue to show up at games and on national TV, embarrassing the efforts of David Stern and Clay Bennett to sweep all of this under the carpet.

Locating Sonicsgate founders behind the players bench in Denver certainly didn’t help and reminded the powers that be that today’s media options make the Seattle situation impossible to ignore.

As the league moves towards an impending lockout, the last thing David Stern needs are cranky Seattle fans embarrassing the NBA while reminding the country of the corruption that removed a storied pillar team from the Pacific Northwest for what most consider a buddy payback!

Read “Seattle’s Lost Supersonics and The Ironic Message Sent By The NBA” by the same author at http://bleacherreport.com/articles/483219-seattle-and-the-message-sent-by-the-nba-by-banning-key-arena