Arena plan in Seattle could move closer to reality

SEATTLE (AP) — The stretch of roadway is one-tenth of a mile long and barely wide enough for cars to pass in opposite directions without one pulling off to the side.

But that stretch of road - Occidental Avenue in Seattle's Sodo District - has become a tipping point in the debate about whether a new NBA and NHL arena will ever be built here.

The Seattle City Council is scheduled to vote Monday on whether to vacate a stretch of the road where investor Chris Hansen hopes to eventually build the arena that could lure the NBA and NHL to Seattle. The vote is viewed as the final major step before a master use permit can be issued and make the arena ''shovel ready.'' Supporters say it could be a tipping point in Hansen's quest to acquire an NBA team - either through expansion or relocation - before a memorandum of understanding for the project with the city and King County expires in late 2017, even though the NBA has said it has no plans to expand at this time.

But the street issue has faced significant opposition from the Port of Seattle and other groups concerned the arena project could infringe on nearby industrial activities. They argue there is no need to rush the decision especially since there is no indication an NBA team could become available for acquisition in the next 18 months.

Here's what to know ahead of the council meeting, where the issue needs five yes votes for passage:

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WHY ALL THE FUSS OVER A STREET?

Hansen's plans call for the arena to sit on the portion of Occidental Avenue that he is asking to be vacated. The street is not a major thoroughfare, but opponents of the project say the street is needed to help relieve traffic in an area that already features two sports stadiums and industrial traffic with Port of Seattle operations nearby.

WHO FAVORS THE STREET VACATION?

Fans of the NBA and NHL in the Seattle area say this is the final step needed to be able to tell both leagues that all the city needs is a team to break ground on the new arena. Of course a team remains the ultimate determinant if the arena ever gets built, but proponents say having the ability to put a shovel in the ground immediately can be a bargaining chip for Hansen.

WHO IS AGAINST IT?

The Port of Seattle and its various interests have been the most vocal against the project, saying there would be too much infringement upon the port's waterfront freight operations. The Seattle Mariners have also expressed their opposition to the arena, which would butt up against the club's parking garage at Safeco Field. The port is likely to file a lawsuit to block the project.

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ARE THERE OTHER OPTIONS?

Yes and no. Opponents of Hansen's project continue to trumpet the idea of looking into a remodel of KeyArena, but the agreement in the original MOU from 2012 precludes the city from looking into those options until the agreement expires. There are also significant transit and traffic concerns surrounding a possible KeyArena option. Other options in suburban Bellevue and Tukwila have been discussed but nothing substantive has developed.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN?

Four members of the City Council have already expressed their support publically, while two have said they will vote against the street vacation. With the Seahawks, Sounders, Mariners and Hansen's group coming to an agreement on scheduling requirements this week, the likelihood is the street vacation will be approved.

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