At a press conference earlier this week, the CEO of National Hockey League (NHL) Seattle announced Seattle’s new NHL team will be siting their offices and practice facility at Northgate Mall surface parking lot, as the first phase of the mall’s redevelopment. Many have hailed this as a victory for the city and a benefit for the Northgate area. The 180,000 square foot facility will have three ice rinks, a main one with space for 1,000 spectators and two smaller ones with with 400 person capacity. The complex will also include the team headquarters and cost its private investors an estimated $70 million all told.
The Seattle Times article quoted the Tod Leiweke, CEO of NHL Seattle as saying “There is simply not another site like this.’’ And I agree, though for different reasons than him.
Besides being the site of an aging mall that is a dinosaur of the auto-age, the proposed location is immediately within the walkshed of the Northgate light rail station that is slated to open in 2021. Approved by the region’s taxpayers as part of Sound Transit 2 (ST2), the Northgate Link extension will add stations at the U District, Roosevelt and Northgate. Additional extensions will continue extending the line North to Lynnwood (2024) and Everett (2036). The Northgate Link extension is being built at a cost of $1.9 billion taxpayer dollars, or over $600 million per station. It is one of the largest investments in public transit the region has ever made. This all begs the question, is a NHL practice complex the best use of precious space near light rail?
The booster assertion that this will be a boon for the community and for local hockey playing children. That is will bring life to the station area and serve as a center piece for the the redeveloped mall site. I have doubts. And so does Seattle Subway, which tweeted “This is a really bad use of space next to Northgate station.”
On the evenings and weekend I am sure this facility will be filled with people playing and walking hockey. But people work or go to school during the day. And for four hours a day it will the practice space for the NHL team and home to a handful of players and coaches. Several times a year I bike by the Seahawks practice facility in Renton and it is fronted by a large parking lot with a few fancy cars. It is the lively heart of nothing. I expect this to be as well. There also is the questions of how many of the players using the rinks will be coming from public transit? If it is not most, than maybe there is a better location for this complex and a better use for the site.
Seattle is in the grips of a simultaneous transportation and housing crisis due to our high rate of growth and the level of wealth of those moving here for prestigious jobs in tech and other industries. Led by organizations such as Share the Cities, Seattle Tech 4 Housing and individuals such as Mike Eliason, Rachael Ludwick, there are ongoing city wide discussions about what the best use of our scarce land is.
This has spurred a new policy on surplus land by the the city and an on-going examination how we use public land such as the the Mercer Mega Block in South Lake Union, public golf courses near light rail station such as at Jackson Park, and even what is the best use of large parcels of private land such the Talaris site in Laurelhurst. Large blocks of land that can provide housing that doesn’t require driving are extremely valuable in a city of increasing congestion. During an era of accelerating climate change, we should not be squandering them.
Which all brings us back to the NHL complex at Northgate. While I think it is a fine thing to build and will be an asset to the local hockey community, is it the best use of the precious few acres of land within walking distance of our regions $1.9 billion dollar light rail extension? I don’t think so. Would the region and their transit dollars be better served by using this land for high density housing and employment? Definitely.
And with the relatively low density zoning around the light rail station, even compared with the U District to the south, it makes the station area even more precious.
Mayor Durkan has spent a lot of time talking about being the climate change mayor and getting back to basics by focusing on transportation and housing. This is an opportunity to show that she cares more about housing than hockey, more about climate change than sports. Let’s work as a city to find an appropriate location for the NHL complex (it could still be in Northgate, just not so near the light rail station!) and the maximize the amount of housing, including required affordable housing, and jobs we can fit with walking distance of the station.