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Here are our top sites for a potential Sounders stadium

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And, sorry, Seattle Center doesn't make the cut.

Mike Russell/Sounder at Heart

I'm going to proceed on the assumption that most of the people reading this are at least aware of the article on Sounder at Heart, regarding Taylor Twellman's interview in which he speculated about Adrian Hanauer's role assuming that Garth Lagerwey joins the Sounders Front Office. Specifically, Twellman put forth the idea that, with Lagerwey on board, Hanauer could turn his focus toward getting the club into their own stadium.

The moment I heard this news, my brain went into overdrive. A new stadium? Great! I have to write about this! Where is it going to go? How many people would it need to hold? 40,000? 50,000? How much land would you need? What are the requirements for a potential location? Would they require a site in Seattle, or would they move to the suburbs?

Faced with these questions, I did what any person would do: I asked somebody who knows a lot about this particular topic, and we put our heads together to come up with a list of things that would be considerations for any potential new stadium. The following is a list of parameters that we decided upon:

  • The minimum timeline for completion is 10 years. That is, the earliest a stadium would be open for use is 2024. This is a somewhat conservative estimate, depending on which jurisdiction the club would be working with, and accounts for the entire process. It also assumes that they haven't started looking already.

  • The stadium would hold at least 40,000 people, and more likely closer to 45,000. This could go as high as 50k, but I don't see it. The Sounders have long held to their policy of enforced ticket scarcity, and I don't see why they'd build a 50,000 seater when we can't consistently put 50,000 people in the stadium we have. I'm betting 45,000 is the maximum. As a result, any potential site would have to be at least 12 acres. This is a bare minimum, and would have to include potential for a parking structure nearby. For reference, Providence Park in Portland sits on ~7 acres and seats 22,000, while CenturyLink Field (including WaMu Theatre and the parking structure) occupies approximately 31 acres, and can accommodate up to 70,000 people.

  • Any potential stadium could not be located in or directly adjacent to a residential zone. This is pretty self-explanatory. A potential stadium in or near a predominantly residential neighborhood would probably be laughed out of town. Even if it wasn't, there would be overwhelming local opposition. It wouldn't happen. As much as I wanted to put this thing at Jefferson Park, I left it out.

  • Access is paramount. The site has to be accessible by car and (most importantly) public transit. I put less of an emphasis on ease of freeway access, for the simple reason that it isn't exactly easy getting in and out of Pioneer Square by car as it stands, and fans seem to manage just fine. In a perfect world, a new stadium would improve on this, but no matter what you do, or where you put it, it will be an issue. So, it was decided that public transit access would be paramount. Any site not served by light rail at the time of completion would not be considered. We tossed around the idea of considering access by bus, but it's harder to project bus service into the future, so I ultimately decided to ignore it for now.

  • Any site that intersected commercial railroad right-of-way was excluded. It's really difficult to alter existing infrastructure of this kind, and would likely be more trouble than it's worth.

  • The club would strongly prefer that any new stadium have a grass pitch. I won't rule out an artificial surface, but I'm assuming that it's unlikely, unless there is a major revolution in the quality of artificial surfaces.

  • An east/west alignment would be preferred for maximum sun exposure. This isn't a requirement; if a site was perfect but required a north/south alignment, they could manage the lack of direct sunlight. It'd be expensive, but they do this all over the northern hemisphere.

  • For the purposes of this analysis, money is no object. Joe Roth has very deep pockets, so this is pretty self explanatory.

  • Difficulty of land acquisition was not taken into account. Everybody has a price, and I'd guess if the Club were set on a location, they'd make a big enough offer to make it happen. I understand it doesn't work like this in real life, but for now I'm assuming it does.

  • Please understand I did this for fun, and did as much research as I was able while still juggling work and life in general. I didn't dig as deep as I would if I was doing this for work, so if there are pending land use actions on some of these sites that I'm not aware of or something similar, forgive me. Similarly, I didn't go out and inspect any of the locations, so if I'm missing something glaring please feel free to rip me to shreds in the comments. Please be gentle.

Both urban and suburban locations were considered. In the event that the Club are actually going to consider moving, my hunch is that they'd prefer to stay in Seattle, but they'd be foolish to not consider other, potentially more amenable jurisdictions. In the end, I found eight new potential locations. Without further ado, here they are:

site overview

(An interactive version can be viewed here.)

The first thing I'm sure you'll notice is some of the sites that are missing, most notably anything at Seattle Center. Obviously, I can't get into why I left every site some of you will undoubtedly come up with, I do feel like I should address Seattle Center's omission. In short, there's a reason I left them off: I don't think Seattle Center is feasible.

Seattle Center

Memorial Stadium

Area: Approximately 9 Acres

Key Arena

Area: Approximately 12 Acres

Ah, Memorial Stadium. Every Sounders fan's perennial stadium pipe dream. It's theoretically ideal, in most ways; it's in the middle of the City, there's tons to do in the area, and there's already a Stadium there! It sounds great, and it is, until you consider a couple of things.

The first problem with Memorial is that the Stadium site and adjacent parking lot are only 9 acres in total. It just isn't big enough, to my eye. Further to that, the existing Stadium is hemmed in on both sides by buildings that likely aren't going anywhere, so there isn't much room for north/south expansion. I suppose that it might be possible; if the Club were willing to reorient the field, you could put massive, three-tiered stands on the east and west sides, with relatively smaller ends on the north/south ends. In case you're wondering, that sound you hear is 3,000 ECS members crying out in terror at the thought. Just kidding! In any case, I don't see it happening as the site is presently arranged. Maybe they could dig the field down 10-20 feet to generate some more leeway, but even then, you'd still struggle to put a 45,000 seat stadium there.

We actually did a mockup of how a modern stadium that fits about 50,000 fans would look at Memorial. (We used Sunderland's Stadium of Light, which was built in 1997 and has a capacity of about 49,000 h/t Devlin Rose).

seattle center sites

There appears to be overlap with both of the adjacent buildings at the Memorial site, though admittedly it isn't as significant as I would have thought. In any case, the fact that there is any overlap at all makes a stadium with this footprint a non-starter; you'd likely need some clearance on all four sides to meet code, and it just doesn't seem like it could be done, unless the footprint was significantly altered.

The problem wit the Key Arena site is a bit different. If it was sitting unused, I might think twice about it - at 12 acres, you can probably get a suitable stadium in there. The problem is, it's being used. The Storm are a tenant, and other events are hosted at the Key on a regular basis. Unless these things can be relocated (perhaps to a new Sonics Arena?) I just don't see the City approving a demolition of Key Arena, especially while they are turning a profit on the property.

The elephant in the room regarding any potential Seattle Center site is access. It is an absolute nightmare getting in and out of Lower Queen Anne at the best of times, and with all of the development in South Lake Union and elsewhere in the vicinity, I don't see this improving much. Without a drastic improvement, I can't see it happening.

To play Devil's advocate to that point, there is some movement toward expanding Link to Ballard. In that corridor analysis, Sound Transit called out Seattle Center as a likely potential stop for Link should the expansion happen. If this was to actually come to pass, I might change my tune. Adding light rail access would allow people from all over the area to get to Seattle Center without driving, thus reducing some of the traffic impacts, as well as the parking burden.

As much as it would be cool to redevelop some portion of Seattle Center, I don't see it happening. There are too many issues and potential hang-ups that make it too great of a challenge.

In the next couple days, I'll go into similar depth on the sites I actually think make sense. We'll also explain why staying at CenturyLink Field may be the best option.

I want to thank my good friend and fellow sports pessimist Jesse London for all of his help in getting this piece put together. His knowledge of both urban planning/land use and the City of Seattle were an invaluable asset when this piece was in the early stages. I probably could have done it without him, but it wouldn't have turned out nearly as well. Also, shout to Devlin Rose who provided the site mock-ups; I really appreciate your work.