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$135 million in public funding approved for Safeco Field improvements

Monday afternoon the King County Council approved $135 million in public funding to be used for Safeco Field improvements and maintenance.

The King County Council approved a controversial package which will allow the Mariners to use $135 million in lodging taxes for Safeco Field improvements.

The 5-4 council approval came after a nearly three-hour meeting which included last-minute amendments to reduce the funding package or redirect funds towards tourism promotion or homeless services.

The compromise agreed upon was hammered out earlier this month after the Mariners initially asked for $180 million in funding as part of a long-term, 25-year lease extension.

Also see | Mariners show why they believe Safeco Field needs millions in repairs

Councilmembers Jeanne Kohl-Welles, Larry Gossett, Rod Dembowski, and Dave Upthegrove joined together on the variety of proposals. However, councilmembers Joe McDermott, Pete Von Reichbauer, Kathy Lambert, Reagan Dunn, and Claudia Balducci remained firm as a majority and blocked any major changes.

The changes included blocking a provision that would have required the Mariners to report net income over the terms of the lease and another provision to limit the Mariners’ profit of naming rights to $50 million. The Public Facilities District, created to manage stadium for the general public, still needs to approve final contract terms.

Also see | Tourism leaders feel burned by Safeco Field funding compromise

Visit Seattle and Southside Seattle both vehemently opposed the final legislation, claiming it was cut out of future lodging tax revenues. However, more taxes were redirected to build affordable housing in the county.

The tax collections begin in 2021 after CenturyLink Field is paid off using the revenue stream.

King County Executive Dow Constantine released the following statement Monday afternoon:

“I appreciate the public engagement and careful deliberations of the King County Council on future uses of the hotel-motel tax.

The legislation approved today balances competing needs, with a minimum of half for affordable housing, more than a third for countywide access to arts and heritage, and reinvestment in the attractions that bring visitors and their tourist dollars to King County, including our publicly-owned ballpark. I commit to working with the King County Council on future tourism investments.

We are already taking steps to provide more affordable housing as quickly as possible, and we continue to create efficiencies and partnerships as we make the most of lodging tax revenues and open new homes near transit and jobs.

The Public Facilities District and the Seattle Mariners must now complete their work and negotiate a lease which protects the public and secures the ballpark as one of the nation’s best sports and entertainment venues.”

King County Councilmembers Jeanne Kohl-Welles, Rod Dembowski, and Larry Gossett released the following joint statement after Monday's vote:

“It’s ironic that as the City of Seattle prepares to ratify a $700 million renovation deal for Key Arena paid primarily by private funding, the King County Council voted today to give away $135 million in public funds to a stadium occupied by a sole corporate tenant worth over $1 billion.

The ordinance we voted on today has been called a compromise. Make no mistake, this is not a compromise. Instead, this ordinance is a values statement and its message is loud and clear – the majority of the King County Council would rather give $135 million dollars in corporate handouts than to adequately support affordable housing, services for homeless youth and small immigrant-owned businesses. And, the mechanism to do so is by gutting funding for the promotion of tourism – the very industry responsible for generating these revenues in the first place.

There is a growing sense of cynicism among voters about how government operates. We as a County are constantly asking tax payers to divvy up more and more to support an effective and responsive government to address essential public needs. How can we ask the public to pay for these services in the future when we are so ready to just give it all away to a corporation that has not made the case that it needs this enormous amount of money from our taxpayers?”


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