Seattle and King County voters are wary of risking any public funds in a potential deal to build a new $490 million sports and entertainment arena in Sodo, according to a poll released today.
The Elway Poll of 201 registered Seattle voters and 207 King County (non-Seattle) voters found 48 percent of Seattle residents and 57 percent of King County residents are in favor of bringing the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League to Seattle.
But when asked if they were willing to risk public money to finance the arena, just 30 percent of Seattle and 33 percent of King County respondents said yes. When asked if they would rather spend taxpayer dollars or not build an arena, 61 percent of Seattle voters and 54 percent from the county said they would choose no arena.
“Voters in Seattle and King County do not seem to share their elected leaders’ enthusiasm for the proposed basketball/hockey arena in Seattle. Although there is considerable support for the arena concept, arena proponents are a long was from closing the deal with voters,” said H. Stuart Elway, author of the poll.
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and King County Executive Dow Constantine have proposed building an 18,000-seat arena with $290 million privately financed by hedge-fund manager Chris Hansen and other investors. The city’s contribution would be capped at $120 million in bonds and the county’s at $80 million. The investors would build the arena and repay the bonds with tax revenues and rents from the sports teams.
The Elway poll notes that “potential trouble” for the proposal turned up in the finding that 6 in 10 respondents were opposed even to the “risk that any public money will ever be needed to pay for this arena.” Sixty-three percent of Seattle voters and 61 percent of county voters said any new arena should be privately financed and there should be no risk that public money will be needed.
The Mariners and the Port of Seattle have objected to the Sodo location, saying it could jeopardize freight mobility in the area, while McGinn and Hansen have argued that it would be built in an existing stadium district with good access to transit. Half of county respondents and 49 percent of Seattle respondents said Sodo was a good location.
Elway notes that at the end of the phone interviews, respondents were asked a series of questions that forced them to make choices about the issues that had just been discussed. Only 30 percent of county voters and 26 percent of Seattle voters came down on the side of the arena all four times.
Elway concludes that “building an arena in Seattle without at least the acquiescence of most Seattle voters is a tall order.” But on the positive side he notes that “voters appear willing to cut the arena some slack on the issues that don’t involve direct funding of the facility. Bonding capacity and supporting infrastructure (such as street improvements) don’t ignite the same passion as building ballparks.”