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King County Official Balks at Safeco Field Proposal

Seattle Mariners

A proposal from King County would allocate about $180 million to future Safeco Field maintenance, but at least one county councilmember believes that the money should be directed elsewhere.

The Seattle Mariners are making some major long-term plans for Safeco Field. As was announced on Wednesday, the Mariners have agreed to a 25-year lease extension with the Washington State Major League Baseball Stadium Public Facilities District (PFD) that takes effect in 2019. The agreement includes two three-year options that could extend the team’s stay through 2049.

The agreement calls for the Mariners and the PFD to work on future Safeco Field upgrades. The two sides commissioned a study by Populous, which found that $385 million over 25 years will be needed for capital improvements to ballpark infrastructure. Additionally, another $160 million is expected to cover upgrades beyond any infrastructure enhancements.

King County executive Dow Constantine has proposed directing 12 percent of hotel/tax revenues to the PFD. That revenue would be used to help maintain Safeco Field as well as Kent’s ShoWare Arena, with roughly $180 million over time going toward Safeco Field. While it will take time before the proposal goes to a vote, King County councilmember Dave Upthegrove is already voicing his opposition to the plan. His contention is that the money could be directed toward other needs, such as affordable housing. More from The Seattle Times:

About $175 million in admissions and parking taxes collected by the team will also be diverted into the capital expenditures fund. The team will also pay $1.5 million in cost indexed rent totaling $55 million over the life of the lease – at least $10 million of which will be used on Safeco Field improvements.

Upthegrove said the proposal introduced by Constantine’s office Wednesday incorrectly stated that 25 percent of the hotel-motel tax must be spent on tourism.

He said state law requires that at least 37.5 percent of the tax revenue generated must be spent on housing, 37.5 percent on arts and culture and the remainder on tourism. But he added the county could choose to spend the tax revenues on more than the minimum amount for housing that it currently does and less on the tourism – and ballpark – aspect.

“If you take any one funding proposal as a one-off, everything looks good,” he said. “I mean, we all love the Mariners, great. But if you back up and look at it as ‘Here’s how much we have in terms of public money, what are our values and priorities as a region?’ Then, I don’t think that we would reach the same conclusion. Because there is a trade-off…that funding could go to other purposes.”

Hotel/motel tax revenue has been a key source for funding professional sports facilities in King County, and is currently being used to pay off construction debt from CenturyLink Field–home to the NFL’s Seahawks and MLS’s Sounders. However, the last of the debt is slated to be paid off by 2020. Over the course of their new lease agreement, the Mariners are expected to pay $250 million toward ballpark maintenance, plus $120 million toward a capital expenditure fund. The lease agreement, it should be noted, is not contingent upon the allocation of hotel/motel tax money by the county.

RELATED STORIES: Mariners Sign 25-Year Lease Extension for Safeco Field, Through 2049

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