SoDo arena approved but ID businesses aren’t all celebrating

An aerial view of the International District, alongside CenturyLink and Safeco fields. The proposed site for the new arena would be a block south of Safeco. (Photo from Flickr/Paul Schultz)

The Seattle City Council and King County Council approved a deal Monday to build a new basketball and hockey arena south of Safeco Field.

But amid the jubilation from Sonics fans hoping to see a NBA team back in Seattle, some who work in the International District aren’t so sure they’ll see an economic benefit from a new arena.

Though the area would undoubtedly become more congested as fans go to games, some lack confidence that the foot traffic would actually be headed their way.

“Now on game day traffic is bad, but there aren’t many people coming in,” said Naoko Nibu-Butler, 52, who works at Kobo a hybrid gallery and gift shop that sells Northwest and Japanese crafts. When the subject of the arena came up, she sighed heavily. “[The owner] is not always happy about game day.”

This traffic is an issue that came up in a number of the public meetings held before the Seattle City Council’s decision to approve hedge-fund manager Chris Hansen’s arena proposal.

Many businesses in the International District say they don’t actually see an uptick in customers on game days, but some are still hopeful that the new arena will bring benefits to the area. (Photo from Flickr/Prayitno)

According to Joseph Chong, a local resident and sports fan who attended these meetings, most of the concerns about traffic came from the Port of Seattle, citing potential hindrance of freight mobility. But when he attended the meetings, he observed that “the Chinatown district [was] neutral.”

On a recent Sunday, football fans in Seahawks-blue jerseys traveling in mobs from Downtown toward CenturyLink Field offered a stark contrast to International District locals. In between the groups of fans, elderly Asian couples made their way to the market. With hoards of sports fans walking by on Jackson Street, no one came into the Kobo gallery.

As the hoots and cheers of the twelfth man wafted from the football field, the streets of Chinatown were otherwise quiet. Most of the Asian restaurants were barely one third full, with more empty tables than people.

Despite worries regarding congestion and the lack of patronage from visiting sports fans, not all businesses are jumping to negative conclusions.

“I believe that the International District will benefit from the new SoDo arena the same way it benefits from [Safeco and CenturyLink],” said Henry Han, an account coordinator at a local multicultural advertising company. “With the close proximity of Sodo and the International District, I can see businesses taking in new patrons outside of baseball and football season and benefiting financially.”

The 1978 Sonics meet the Trailblazers in the Coliseum, later known as Key Arena. Complaints about the arena were one of the reasons the franchise was moved to Oklahoma. (Photo via Seattle Municipal Archives)

It was only in 2008 that the Seattle Supersonics left for Oklahoma City, citing, amongst other grievances, the need for a new home or an update to Key Arena.

According to Han, the lower Queen Anne area took an economic hit when the Sonics left. Without basketball fans coming to the area to attend games and boosting stores’ sales on game nights, businesses struggled.

“I don’t know about traffic, but people coming in is beneficial for us,” said Nibu-Butler, referencing the possibility of people moving into condos nearby. She said that it would be interesting to see what happens in the coming years as the new arena is developed in the area a block south of Safeco on Occidental Avenue.

That location is not written in stone, and according to The Seattle Times the deal the city and county councils approved requires an environmental review and economic impact study that include an analysis of alternate sites.

Until those details are finalized, International District businesses won’t know when – or even exactly where – to look for changes coming to their area.


  1. Joseph Chong is an active arena supporter, and not merely a “sports fan”. He is part of the Hansen PR machine.

    1. I’d just like to clarify that Joseph Chong is not a paid member of any pro-arena group; he’s very enthusiastic about the arena, but is not getting compensated for his support.

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