Image from Seattle Channel: Mariners vice president Fred Rivera makes a case for keeping Safeco Field a first-class ballpark.
Image from Seattle Channel: Mariners vice president Fred Rivera makes a case for keeping Safeco Field a first-class ballpark.

Update July 31: King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles removed herself as a sponsor of County Executive Dow Constantine's proposal to fund Safeco Field maintenance up to $190 million, and instead is supporting a $25 million contribution to the public facilities district while also planning to submit a motion to boost affordable housing funding by $184 million.
“The existing proposal to fund up to $190 million for maintenance at Safeco Field is simply the wrong amount at the wrong time," she says in a July 31 statement. “The bottom line is our region is experiencing a major housing crisis. If a government declares something a state of emergency, then the public deserves to have their elected officials act accordingly.”

Original article

Housing advocates came out in large numbers on Monday to urge the King County Council to reconsider plans to commit as much as $190 million in hotel/motel tax revenue toward requested maintenance of Safeco Field.

The county’s 2 percent lodging tax allocation is required by law to be split up, with 37.5 percent slated for arts and culture, and another 37.5 percent going to funding affordable workforce housing near transit stations or services for homeless youth.

At issue is a remaining 25 percent in revenue, and plans to commit 60 percent of that money — $177-$190 million — to the Washington State Major League Baseball Stadium Public Facilities District for Safeco Field capital projects that are a critical factor in negotiating a new 25-year extension with the Seattle Mariners. The current lease is set to expire at the end of this year.

The remaining revenue was meant to go to tourism and promoting tourism, but King County Executive Dow Constantine on Friday communicated to the council that the lodging tax should be used for Safeco Field improvements.

The Seattle Times reports Mariners executive vice president and legal counsel Fred Rivera says the team will only agree to a five-year extension if the capital funding for Safeco Field maintenance items is not provided.

Rivera attended Monday’s King County Council Committee of the Whole meeting and public hearing, where he fielded questions from councilmembers.

Rivera said Safeco Field will require $800 million in maintenance and upgrade costs over the next 25 years, and the Mariners expect to pay the full cost of proposed upgrades. The Mariners provided the county with a list of minimum necessary upgrades totaling $190 million, which does not include potential upgrades to the parking garage.

The 19-year-old ballpark was constructed using three taxes the Legislature authorized the county to impose in 1995: A 0.5 percent restaurant, bar and tavern food and drink sales and use tax; a 2 percent car rental sales and use tax; and a 0.017 percent sales and use tax credited against the state’s sales and use tax. Those taxes expired after the bonds were repaid in 2011. The county also donated the land to the public facilities district — valued at $38 million — for construction of the ballpark.

Councilmember Dave Upthegrove is adamantly opposed to providing the funding to the PFD, arguing the team should be able to cover those costs. Forbes has valued the Mariners at $1.45 billion. Upthegrove asked Rivera why the team’s owners can’t finance the capital costs, rather than drain public funds; the councilmember wants the county to invest more funding in creating affordable housing.

Rivera said the Mariners are paying 100 percent of the upgrade costs, and the team spent more than a year negotiating an agreement with the public facilities district that both parties feel is fair. Four of those PFD board members were appointed by the county, he pointed out.

“I’d like to hear from them,” said committee chair Rod Dembowski of the public facilities district. “They are looking out and running the public entity for the public, and, to be honest, Mr. Rivera, I’d like to see more of them to make the public case.”

The Mariners and PFD in 2015 commissioned B&D Venues and Populus Architects to generate a third-party report examining Safeco Field and anticipated capital improvements. The report, which was updated on May 15, identifies $385.5 million in necessary improvements to keep the ballpark in first-class condition through 2041.

Rivera said that report also states the Mariners have generated $3.8 billion in economic activity over the term of the current lease. King County director of strategic initiatives Jeff Muhm pointed out that the report states that just 5 percent of those attending Mariners games require hotel lodging.

Attendance at Mariners games and at other ballparks around the country is down, Rivera said, because fans now view baseball games using various internet devices. People coming to ballparks do so for the “social experience,” he said, which is a key focus now regarding stadium investments.

Councilmember Pete von Reichbauer put his support behind the capital funding, saying the Mariners are a community asset. The team nearly left in the ‘90s, not wanting to continue playing in the Kingdome.

“We almost lost this team,” von Reichbauer said. “I don’t want us to get in a nose to nose battle where we face a potential loss of a major factor in this community.”

Sara Wamsley, policy manager for the Housing Development Consortium of King County, addressed the current affordable housing deficit. She said the county needs 157,000 more homes now, and another 244,000 by 2040, according to findings by a regional housing task force.

“Everyone in this room knows that we won’t get there by doing the bare minimum,” she said.

Low Income Housing Institute director Sharon Lee also pushed the council to consider increasing funding for affordable housing through lodging tax revenues, which Upthegrove has proposed should be at least $150 million more.

Washington 37th District Rep. Eric Pettigrew came to Monday’s meeting to throw out his support for funding Safeco Field’s maintenance costs, saying the Mariners have been an excellent community partner in his district.

Seattle Southside Chamber of Commerce president Andrea Reay urged the council to consider increasing funding for regional destination marketing organizations to promote tourism in the region, which is necessary for job creation.

Visit Seattle CEO Tom Norwalk echoed that request, saying that DMOs drive economic development through marketing, promotions and events.

The next King County Council Committee of the Whole meeting to discuss and possibly take action on a lodging tax revenue decision is slated for 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 29.