An Interview With Field of Schemes Author Neil deMause Regarding The SODO Arena; Part 4

This is the fourth and final installment of my email interview with Field of Schemes author Neil deMause. Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 are highlighted in those links.
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NVR: Everett and Kent built to modern (and they are going to be modern for a long time) buildings that are just gorgeous. You said that you like Hansen’s plans; what do you think are some of it’s best features?

NDM: I can’t comment on Hansen’s arena designs, as 1) I haven’t looked at them in depth and 2) I don’t think you should ever expect that sports facilities will look much like they do in the early planning stages, since that’s usually just so much spaghetti thrown against the wall.

NVR: Okay final question; on Field of Schemes you talked about how this deal could be better than the deal that helped build AT&T Park in San Francisco. How do these two deals compare? And how is the SODO deal better?

NDM: I wrote that last July, before all the numbers were in. A few more hidden costs have piled up since then — $15 million in property tax breaks, for starters — that make the Seattle deal look slightly less rosy. The Seattle deal is preferable in that the Giants didn’t pay for property acquisition, the San Francisco one in that the city didn’t have to kick back nearly as much in tax revenues. I’d probably take the San Francisco deal over the Seattle one now, since at least the cost was a known quantity, not an open-ended tax kickback; but still, they’re both in the same ballpark, with the team owner paying a much larger percentage than in the vast majority of cases.
I want to stress this again, because I think it’s important to understand: It’s possible to say that the Seattle arena deal is better than most, *and* that it’s only marginally a decent one for taxpayers — because the average arena deal is, frankly, godawful. The bar is very low here, and Hansen has cleared it by a considerable margin. I’d say that people who worry that it’s not worth the expense for taxpayers and those who say it’s a great feat of bargaining are both right — whether you consider this a success or not depends largely on whether the question you’re asking is “Did we get a good deal for an arena?” or “Was this the best use of the city’s time and money?”
Baby steps, though. If 20 years from now we look back at the Seattle arena as the moment when cities began to hold the line on sports subsidies, even if not perfectly, then that’ll be a success. After writing about this stuff for almost 20 years myself now, though, I’m not exactly holding my breath.
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