Clueless In Seattle: A Pending NBA Crisis

By Gregory Moore
Updated: November 9, 2007

Seattle residents are about to witness a nightmare. They need to wake up so that they do not have pipe dreams like the one in San Antonio, Texas be a constant reminder of inept political leadership.

Seattle residents are about to witness a nightmare. They need to wake up so that they do not have pipe dreams like the one in San Antonio, Texas be a constant reminder of inept political leadership.

SAN ANTONIO — The Seattle Super Sonics fans are about to watch their elected politicians screw up and see a beloved franchise leave the Great Northwest. Forget about Clay Bennett’s lawsuit with the city or even what David Stern had to say earlier this week.

Forget about the work that the ‘Save Our Sonics” organization is trying to do. You want to know what is really going on? Go ask your local politician but don’t be surprised by their answer. Usually elected officials are as clueless as grasshoppers on issues such as ‘entertainment’.

Sitting over here in the Southwest part of the world, it is easy to Monday quarterback a situation that I barely understand but if there is one thing I understand all too well, it is the fact that municipalities for the most part are inept at keeping their pro sports franchises in fairly up to date digs. Case in point, the beloved AT&T Center right here in San Antonio.

Five years after completion, the reigning NBA champs want some major upgrades to the tune of over $150 million. Wait a minute, with a name like AT&T, shouldn’t this building be “modern”? But let me add something else to this mix if you will. My understanding of Seattle’s plight comes from the fact that Key Arena is indeed an old structure and the fight they are beginning to witness stems from a power structure that has not done anything to upgrade the place in years; meaning they kept revamping it and a new home was never in the equation.

Ladies and gentlemen in Seattle, there is the problem you need to look at and why your current leadership cannot give you answers. But so that you can understand this better, let me tell you of the plight that is happening in my own backyard and why you need to look around the league and see what else is going on to save the Sonics from being relocated to a city that is willing to make them a thriving part of the NBA community.

Right here in San Antonio, there is a large segment of the community that believes that the citizens were hoodwinked into getting the AT&T Center built. Back when this deal was being done, there were promises that economic development and revitalization would happen in the area, jobs would be created, hotels would go up, etc., etc, yada, yada, blah, blah.

Let me go on the record and say that as a long time resident of San Antonio and a citizen who has interests in the area of town where the arena is located, those voices that say the East side was tricked were 1000% correct yet they way they were tricked has more to do with an inept mayor at the time and not the current location.

When then mayor Howard Peak decided to not lead a charge where the arena would have been across the street from the Alamodome, the wheels were set in motion for how the arena was built where it is now. What has ensued since then has been more about an area that has not thrived and the pipe dream of a developer and realization that economic revitalization is almost null and void.

BROKEN PROMISES, PIPE DREAMS AND A $170 MILLION BLUNDER The Eastside of San Antonio, especially where the arena is, has never been an area where a big entertainment push has been made. Sure there may be a bar here and there, a topless BYOB juke joint along the access road but a viable area where residents can live where entertainment and sports is the center of San Antonio? That was never a dream in the past but with Holly Hills the idea seems to be more of a pipe dream.

In the coming years since the arena was built, there has been a plan by the California based development corporation to bring the Eastside into the center of San Antonio’s entertainment world.

The company planned on doing that by having a massive development that included a world class motor speedway, golf course, baseball stadium, football stadium and an assortment of apartments and condominiums in an area that would also be within walking distance of the AT&T Center.

Called the Eastside Vision, this project was to be the answer to what many say is the biggest problem on this side of town. To get an idea of what the company was talking about, click here to see the map of the area.

Let’s talk turkey for a moment about why this development was nothing more than a dud and why it is so hard for people to realize that an economic boon on this side of town is more talk than reality. First and foremost, the Eastside of San Antonio is a light industrial area with some neighborhoods thrown in. It has been that way for decades and no one has thought about rezoning and allowing gentrification to take place for this boom that they are now talking about.

Secondly, there is a negative stigma about this side of town and that reputation hurts any idea that may come forth. The crime element is so prevalent, the imagery of an area being so economically depressed is so real, it is hard to get a hotel owner or restaurant entrepreneur to invest in and around this area.

Holly Hills’ project had plans for a 70,000-seat NFL football stadium, a 130,000-seat NASCAR track, and a 48,000-seat MLB baseball stadium amongst other things. Sounds wonderful right? In a fantasy world, on Sim City or in a pipe dream, the plan is spectacular but in the real world this plan just didn’t fly. To begin with San Antonio has no MLB franchise and it has no NFL franchise.

NASCAR is as unrealistic as bringing back the old Mission Drive In that the city just bought to tear down and condos on this part of town are very unrealistic. Consider the fact that the Alamodome, which is now 14 years old, needs a facelift and probably eight figures in costs to renovate, this project just didn’t seem feasible. Oh but the politicians were salivating and that was the biggest problem.

TRYING TO KEEP IT REAL ABOUT A DEPRESSED AREA The biggest problem that this project and so many others have is the fact that reality is not in their realm of possibility. Instead of politicians and planners understanding that venues such as stadiums and arenas need to be near the downtown area, they try to put them in areas like the Eastside that are already economically depressed. Let’s make something undeniably clear about the arena; there has not been one iota of solid economic boon whatsoever since the doors opened.

There are not major hotels within walking distance. There are no upscale restaurants, nightclubs or apartment complexes that help drive the area’s economy. Once the game is over, 18,000 plus people plus arena staff bolt out of that building head towards their side of town.

Traffic is diverted away from any downtown areas because the politicians do not want the fans to travel down the one thoroughfare that is also a way into downtown. In the process of that diversion, several small businesses do not get the traffic or customers that a game could provide. Is that fair? No it isn’t. In trying to keep up a farce, city leaders have done everything they can to further economically depress the neighborhood.

What is also disheartening is the fact that there has not been one single application or program from the city to help entice the supposed economic development that so many promised and assured the residents. In five years the only meaningful outlook of a new business was a tattoo parlor that was across the railroad tracks and if you don’t count the ticket brokers that are down the street, that is it.

The area’s city representative and her past predecessors have not done anything to try and lure meaningful businesses to the area and there is a logical reason why they haven’t been able to do so; the area is not a conduit to such growth.

As it is quickly becoming a theme here, this part of San Antonio was used for nothing more than to put an arena on a cheap piece of land and hope that everyone forgot about the promises made.

WHY SEATTLE NEEDS TO LOOK AT THIS SITUATION AND SHUDDER By now I’m sure many are saying what in the hell does the plight near the AT&T Center, a broke pipe dream by a California based development firm and empty promises to the residents have to do with Seattle’s current plight with Mr. Bennett?

Broken promises, pipe dreams and inept politicians are the very reason why San Antonio’s entertainment sector is broken and fragmented and it is the very reason why Seattle’s officials need to get off their butts and do something quick.

Long before Howard Shultz bought and sold the Sonics and long before Bennett group bought the team from Shultz, the political factions in Seattle knew darn well that Key Arena would become outdated one day. The mere fact that they have built new digs for both an NFL team and a MLB team should have been more than enough forethought that one day the Sonics would need a new building.

But they have sat on their butts for years and now with the threat of a team leaving town, only then do they try to make a concerted effort into saving the team. That’s not good business and now the fans of this team are beginning to suffer the consequences.

Citizens of Seattle learn from the mistakes that we made here in San Antonio. Because so many people believed in pipe dreams, they allowed any common sense thought to go out the window with their economic needs. The Sonics need a new place to play not because Clay Bennett said so but because it was probably needed some ten years ago. Touch up paint and new carpet doesn’t work in this day and age.

Get with your local politicians, business people and movers and shakers. If the new arena needs to go to a suburb where the prospect of a huge economic boon can take place and where industries like the hospitality industry can thrive, then make it happen in that area.

Get ideas from other cities like Dallas and Cleveland and learn how to make that area work so that the arena isn’t the main attraction but just one piece of the whole area.

Seattle residents start putting the pressure on everyone involved in this fracas. The reality of the situation is that Oklahoma City has already proven that it can handle having a NBA franchise and it is clamoring for one.

If you don’t want to lose the Sonics, you better start looking at what is necessary for compromise and get both sides to do so. If not you may lose your team at worst or be in an economic quandary like we are in San Antonio at best when it comes to a new arena and economic development that it does not create.