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Councilmember Withdraws Support of Safeco Field Funding Bill

Seattle Mariners One of three co-sponsors of a bill to allocate about $180 million in lodging tax revenue toward future Safeco Field improvements has withdrawn her support, leaving uncertainty about the plan. 

In May, the Seattle Mariners announced the terms of a 25-year lease extension with the Washington State Major League Baseball Stadium Public Facilities District (PFD), with two three-year options that could extend the team’s stay through 2049. It also called for 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. Over the course of their new lease agreement, the Mariners would be expected to pay $250 million toward ballpark maintenance, plus $120 million toward a capital expenditure fund.

To cover some of the funding for future ballpark improvements, King County executive Dow Constantine proposed directing 12 percent of hotel/motel tax revenues to the PFD, with roughly $180 million over time going toward Safeco Field. One of the original co-sponsors of legislation for that funding was councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles, but she announced on Tuesday that she is withdrawing her name from the bill. Instead, Kohl-Welles will introduce legislation to direct more lodging tax funds toward affordable housing while providing $25 million for future Safeco Field upgrades. That leaves three representatives on the nine-member King County council against the roughly $180 in funding, with two supporting and four who have not publicly indicated where they stand. More from The Seattle Times:

“The bottom line is our region is experiencing a major housing crisis,” she said.

“We can strike the right balance and find a way to meet the Mariners’ stated basic maintenance needs while also acknowledging the immense, immediate need to address our housing crisis,” she continued.

That leaves two of nine council members on record in support of the original stadium funding plan – co-sponsors Joe McDermott and Pete von Reichbauer.

Council members Dave Upthegrove and Rod Dembowski have been generally opposed. That puts the whip count at 3-2 against the Safeco funding, while four council members haven’t said what direction they’re leaning.

A committee meeting for the roughly $180 million in funding is scheduled for August 29, with a full council vote potentially taking place in September. The process will be watched closely, as the Mariners and PFD will likely go back to the drawing board in their long-term lease negotiations if the funding proposal is not approved. The Mariners’ current lease expires at the end of 2018.

Under state law, at least 37.5% of lodging tax funds are to go affordable housing, with at least the same portion going toward arts programs, leaving the rest available for tourism promotion (which is where the Safeco Field funding would come from). Some King County officials, however, contend that the county could spend more than the minimum required for affordable housing by diverting funds away from tourism. Historically, lodging tax revenue has been a key funding source for 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 that debt is slated to be paid off in 2020, freeing up $36 million per year for other expenditures starting in 2021.

RELATED STORIES: Safeco Field Lease Extension Could Be Scrapped Without Lodging Tax Funds; King County Official Balks at Safeco Field ProposalMariners Sign 25-Year Lease Extension for Safeco Field, Through 2049

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