Should the county spend $180 million on maintaining Safeco Field? The Mariners, which are valued at $1.45 billion, want hundreds of millions in county money before the team will sign a new 25-year lease and it looks like the county politicians want to cough up the cash.
King County Executive Dow Constantine unveiled a plan in May to take $180 million out of the county’s lodging tax, a tax that is primarily spent on public housing and public art, and spend it on maintaining Safeco Field. The plan's first public hearing is this coming Monday.
An executive for the Mariners told The Seattle Times that the team will remain in Seattle even if they don't get their $180 million, although they will only sign a 5-year lease instead of a 25-year agreement.
King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles told The Stranger this morning that, while she hadn’t made up her mind, it sounded like she was leaning towards supporting it.
“[Safeco Field] brings in a lot of revenue so that’s the balance that I’m trying to look at,” Kohl-Welles said. “People come to Seattle for the games and they stay at hotels, and they go to music venues... It’s finding the right balance there.”
King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove told The Seattle Times that he does not want to give the money to the team.
“We all love the Mariners and they’re a part of our life but we have to remember this is a for-profitor profit business,” Upthegrove, who chairs the council’s budget committee, said in an interview Thursday. “And a large one. It’s a billion-dollar company that can afford to and can and should pay their own expenses. Because if they don’t then we end up using public funds that need to go to other more pressing priorities.”
Former Seattle City Councilmember Nick Lacata broke down some of the problems with the plan, including how the county doesn't have a defined return on the investment in a Slog post last month.
Safeco Field's funding source has been hotly contested for longer than the stadium has existed. In 1995, then-King County Executive Gary Locke asked the public for about $240 million to replace the aging Kingdome with a new open-air stadium. The deal was put to a public vote. Locke said: "It is time to let the voters play ball on this issue," according to an archived timeline from The Seattle Times.
Only the public didn't get to play ball. Voters narrowly rejected the idea of spending public money only to have the governor call a special session of the legislature just to pass a law that would fund the new park with a different source of public money.
Will the public's voice be overturned with this latest request from The Mariners? Will our county subsidize a billion-dollar, for-profit corporation's housing while thousands sleep on Seattle's streets and the rest of us struggle to pay rent?
We'll find out more on Monday.