PEORIA, Ariz. -- Mariners chairman Howard Lincoln isn't opposed to the NBA. In fact, he notes he was a Sonics fan before he became a Mariners fan and will be first in line to buy tickets if professional basketball returns to Seattle.
But Lincoln and the Mariners have expressed concerns about traffic congestion in the SODO District that would be further impacted by the addition of the multi-purpose arena proposed just south of Safeco Field by San Francisco hedge-fund manager Chris Hansen.
While the Mariners successfully co-exist with the Seahawks and Sounders in the adjacent CenturyLink Field, Lincoln notes that an NBA arena will need to host 200 or more events a year to be financially viable and would thus dramatically change the road and parking situation in an already-congested area.
Lincoln sent a letter to Seattle city officials on Tuesday asking that the site-selection process for an arena be expanded to other possible areas such as Seattle Center or Bellevue that would require less taxpayer funding to deal with the necessary road and infrastructure improvements required.
"As the letter makes clear, we're very supportive of having the NBA back in Seattle and the NHL as well," Lincoln said. "We had a great relationship with the Sonics before they left and, quite frankly, I was a Sonics fan before I was a Mariners fan. So we'd love to see the NBA back.
"Our concern is the siting of the proposed NBA arena and the transportation issue and what we anticipate will be the need to expend significant public funds to mitigate the transportation problems we have down there, and to build appropriate infrastructure so the transportation issues are at least eased.
"What we're saying is, 'Let's have a public process that determines the best site for the arena.' We simply don't think the site right next to our parking garage works."
Lincoln notes that the Port of Seattle also is raising concerns over traffic issues that could negatively affect its business, which Lincoln said is a much larger issue for the region than the Mariners, when it comes to jobs and economic impact.
"I think it's fair to say that both the Port and Mariners are aghast at the way this process, so far, is being handled," Lincoln said. "The Mariners went through a year process for site selection and all of that. This thing seems to be focused on at light speed.
"People need to step back and say, 'Wait a second. Will this work?' And the answer is most likely it's not going to unless the public is willing to spend a lot of tax dollars to build the necessary infrastructure to put an overpass over Lander so that access to and from that NBA arena does not clog up Edgar Martinez Way and negatively impact the Port."
Lincoln said when Safeco Field was built in 1999, city officials promised to put three overpasses in to help with both car and pedestrian traffic because of the railroad tracks that run north and south adjacent to the stadiums.
Only one of those overpasses was built -- at Edgar Martinez Way -- and that street now is heavily used by trucks moving in and out of the Port area.
Lincoln said if a similar overpass could be built at Lander Street, to the south of the Safeco parking garage, it would ease much of the problem, as well as the Mariners' concerns.
"That would be a very positive step in the right direction," Lincoln said.
But that is an expensive project that would require considerable public funds and there has been no discussion of that to date.
"We have probably the most knowledge of traffic issues in that area, because we've been dealing with traffic congestion down there for the last 10 years," Lincoln said. "We're certainly open and willing and anxious to work with the city and county officials and Port and maritime industry. But we are very skeptical and feel strongly that an arena next to our parking garage is going to require the expenditure of substantial public funds to alleviate the traffic congestion."
Lincoln said city officials urged Hansen to look at the Seattle Center as a possible site and Bellevue would also be interested in luring an NBA/NHL arena. Lincoln feels a new arena would better succeed in an area where traffic and parking aren't as problematic, and he worries that fans of all the sports teams -- including the Mariners -- will be discouraged from attending games if those issues get worse in the SODO District.
"If we could get the NBA back to Seattle, that would be a tremendous thing for everyone," Lincoln said. "As a long-time NBA fan, I'd be the first one to buy tickets. I don't know anything about the National Hockey League, but I've sure been to a lot of Sonics games and it would be great to have the NBA back.
"I'd just like to make sure it's sited in a place that works, not just for the Mariners and the Port, but also for Chris Hansen."