Final Analysis: Head Scratchers of 2016

They’re not the biggest stories of the year. But they do make one wonder.
| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 
 
If you travel along Pike Street between Seventh and Ninth avenues in downtown Seattle, you’ve seen them. The boulders.
 
That’s right. Big, honkin’ rocks embedded in freshly poured concrete. They’re there to make the pedestrian experience on the sidewalks in front of the Washington State Convention Center more “user friendly,” says Convention Center CEO Jeffrey Blosser.
 
Not making this up. 
 
The rocks, I’m relieved to report, are “locally sourced,” because we wouldn’t want foreign rocks outside our convention center. The rocks will be joined by large coniferous trees and other native plants “to evoke a walk in the woods.” Yup. Conventioneers can step away from a stultifying breakout session and perch atop a domestically harvested boulder to watch somebody’s dog make a deposit in an evocative setting of Northwest foliage. 
 
The preciousness of such a moment can’t be overstated, which is why the Pike Street Boulderscape occupies the top spot in my Head Scratchers of the Year review.
 
These stories didn’t necessarily make it to the top of the 6 o’clock news, but they still bear reporting. Take Seattle University’s decision to fight the unionization of its adjunct faculty members. [Full disclosure: I’m an adjunct faculty member at Seattle U.] In October, the president of the university decided he would fight, on religious grounds, to keep the part-time profs from unionizing.
 
It’s a head scratcher because Seattle University is a Jesuit institution, and Jesuits are all about servant leadership, social justice, fair wages and the rights of workers. For centuries, Catholic teaching has held that collective bargaining is a vital tool in the pursuit of social justice.
 
I have a degree from one Jesuit university and I teach at another, and neither one has ever asked about my religious beliefs. Rather, I’ve always been encouraged to be myself and to embrace a love of learning and the pursuit of heroic leadership. Yet Seattle University President Stephen Sundborg, a Jesuit priest, says he fears that government intrusion via the National Labor Relations Board could impede Seattle U’s Catholic mission. (It is oddly ironic that the words “catholic” and “university” are essentially synonymous, both trumpeting the concept of broadly based, all-embracing, comprehensive endeavors.)
 
Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, believed social justice — achieved through charity, benevolence and mercy — lay at the heart of Ignatian ethics. And since nontenured adjunct faculty members at Seattle U make up more than 50 percent of the teaching staff, wouldn’t it make sense for the university to welcome an effort that affords this group a path to higher wages and richer benefits?
 
And so I scratch my head.
 
The final Head Scratcher Award goes to Bill Bryant, who ran for governor of Washington by hilariously promising to fix Seattle’s traffic problems. Bryant was defeated by incumbent Governor Jay Inslee in the polls, so we'll probably never get to see Mr. Bryant’s brilliant fix.
 
What a pity. During the campaign, Bryant aired a TV commercial that showed him sitting in a car in a traffic jam and lamenting our famous gridlock. The commercial wins style points because Bryant has a pizza delivered to his car while he’s sitting in traffic. Nice touch. But then the candidate says, “I drive in this. I get it. And as your next governor, I’ll fix it.”
 
As if!
 
By virtue of its challenging geography, Seattle has no more room for expressways. And we’re decades late in warming to the idea of a comprehensive regional transit system. For Bryant to declare in Trumpian style that he can fix our traffic mess is the height of chutzpah. 
 
Do we look that stupid? I mean, just because we put rocks on our sidewalks is no reason to think we’re gullible idiots. 
 
John Levesque is the managing editor of Seattle Business magazine. Reach him at john.levesque@tigeroak.com.
 

Final Analysis: The Sporting Life in 2017

Final Analysis: The Sporting Life in 2017

Three predictions for the coming year on a new arena, an old arena and the Mariners.
| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 
 
As every first-year business student knows, a city’s economy is not considered “world class” until said city has erected at least four shrines to professional sports and these shrines remain empty and unused most days of the year. Seattle is knocking on the door of world classiness because it already has KeyArena, Safeco Field and CenturyLink Field up and running. Occasionally. Just one more monument to appease the great mass of athletic supporters and we’re there. Hallelujah!
 
It’s only a matter of time because Chris Hansen, the San Francisco rich guy who wants to build a new arena on First Avenue South and bring pro basketball and pro hockey to Seattle, is this close to getting his way. In October, Hansen revealed that he and his investors are now willing to pay the whole honkin’ bill for plopping a new arena into the SoDo neighborhood a block from Safeco Field. He still wants a piece of Occidental Way vacated and also expects some tax breaks from the city, but that’s how rich guys are. (See: Trump, Donald.) Besides, the people who believe we’re not world class until the NBA returns to Seattle are salivating over this deal because it’s the best deal we’re ever going to get
 
Of course, these same people said Hansen’s previous offer, which would have required that $200 million in public money be plowed into a new arena, was also the best deal we were ever going to get. 
 
Hansen’s decision to pay more for his arena places the sports economy clearly in the local spotlight this year. Heaven knows we could use more opportunities to pay $9 for a beer and see millionaire athletes selling Jaguars and BMWs on TV. It’s the kind of economic shot in the arm that only comes around whenever a sports league is in a coercive mood. 
 
And so, in the spirit of this January issue’s “looking ahead” theme, we offer three predictions relating to the regional economy as the Hansen arena intrigue continues to unfold.
 
Prediction 1: Hansen, who has already spent more than $120 million buying up property in the area of his proposed arena, will persuade the Port of Seattle, his arch nemesis in this melodrama, to fold up its tent and send all cargo-handling operations to Tacoma. That decision will pave the way for so many trendy bars and restaurants with names like Kale & Kumquat or Cobblestone & Wingtip that Hansen will be persuaded to create a private streetcar system to connect Pioneer Square with the burgeoning Stadium District. 
 
Prediction 2: The city-owned KeyArena, whose very future is clouded by the Hansen proposal, will announce plans to house up to 10,000 homeless persons every day. Even on days when the Seattle Storm and Seattle University basketball teams need the building, the city believes the Storm and the Redhawks could use the attendance boost, so it becomes a classic win-win.
 
Prediction 3: The Seattle Mariners, who still don’t like the arena proposal, will channel their hostility onto the field of play — and still not win the World Series. (This is called pattern-recognition analysis.) However, always mindful of improving the fan experience — because it’s not whether your team wins or loses, but whether you’re inclined not to press charges for being gouged by a vendor — the Mariners will introduce several new fan-friendly food items, plus mani/pedi stations in the pricey seats and roving loan officers to assist anyone trying to finance the purchase of hot dogs and sodas for a family of four. 
 
JOHN LEVESQUE is the managing editor of Seattle Business magazine. Reach him at john.levesque@tigeroak.com.