The amended ordinance will allocate $135 million in lodging tax revenues for Safeco Field upkeep over the next two decades. Photo by Cacophony/Wikipedia Commons

The amended ordinance will allocate $135 million in lodging tax revenues for Safeco Field upkeep over the next two decades. Photo by Cacophony/Wikipedia Commons

King County Council approves $135 million public investment in Safeco Field

A council committee voted to advance a last-minute “compromise” plan to fund stadium maintenance.

With a narrow vote 5-4 vote, a King County Council committee approved a plan to spend $135 million on Safeco Field maintenance, down from the original $180 million investment proposed several months ago by County Executive Dow Constantine.

Back in May, Constantine rolled out legislation to use roughly $180 million in future revenues from the lodging tax (a fee on hotel and motel stays) to pay for infrastructure maintenance at Safeco Field over the next two decades. The plan garnered opposition from housing advocates—who packed several hearings on the ordiannce—and King County council member Dave Upthegrove, who argued that more of the money from the tax can be spent on affordable housing given the regional housing and homelessness crisis.

The backlash prompted council member Jeanne Kohl-Welles, a former sponsor of Constantine’s legislation, to pull her support from it and introduce an amendment that would slash the Safeco Field investment to $25 million and send an additional $184 million to affordable housing.

But in a last-minute move at a Sept. 5 Committee of the Whole meeting, the council passed an amendment—introduced by council members Claudia Balducci and Joe McDermott—that would instead cut the spending on Safeco Field to $135 million while boosting the allocation for affordable housing by $165 million to $661 million, up from the $496 million earmarked in the county executive’s original proposal. The amendment reshuffles $100 million from general tourism promotion in the county to achieve this, at the expense of organizations who were slated to receive the money such as the Seattle Southside Regional Tourism Authority.

Council members Kathy Lambert, Pete von Reichbauer, and Reagan Dunn joined Balducci and McDermott in voting to approve the measure, while Larry Gossett, Upthegrove, Kohl-Welles, and Rod Dembowski voted against it. Kohl-Welles’ amendment to cut the stadium spending to $25 million was also put down by an identical 5-4 vote.

McDermott had been a sponsor of Constantine’s original spending plan, and Balducci had voiced her support for it back in May. “Compromises aren’t loved by anyone,” McDermott said prior to the vote on his amendment. “I believe this amendment strikes a strong balance.”

Balducci defended the proposal by arguing that it allocates “more than the minimum” amount of funding designated for affordable housing by state law from the lodging tax revenues and that Safeco Field is a publicly-owned asset. “It is public. It exists. I support the idea of putting a reasonable amount of funding toward maintenance,” she said.

Von Reichbauer praised John Stanton—the majority owner of the Mariners who is worth over $1 billion—while expressing his support for the amendment. “They’re [Stanton and the Mariners] going to put money back into this community,” he said. “It’s important to recognize that this is a bargain of an agreement, not somebody taking advantage of somebody else.”

council members Upthegrove, Dembowski, Gossett, and Kohl-Welles blasted new proposal to only cut the Safeco Field funding to $135 million.

“This continues to invest $135 million into Safeco Field … I don’t think that’s right,” Upthegrove said. “This is a private, for-profit business and it can and should pay its own expenses.”

Upthegrove also said that public financing of stadiums is “a racket” and “not in the public interest.”

The Mariners have argued that since the stadium is technically owned by the Public Facilities District (the entity that manages the facility), the county should contribute funding toward maintenance and upkeep, such as fixing the retractable roof. The ball club had also maintained previously that it wouldn’t sign a new 25-year lease in Safeco Field—which ends in December—unless the county approved the $180 million for stadium upkeep.

An outside consultant study identified roughly $385 million in necessary maintenance that Safeco Field needs, of which the Mariners have said they will pay roughly $200 million. The same report also said that the ballpark needs roughly $180 million in non-essential upgrades like a brewpub and expanding parking. The Mariners have said they plan to finance these improvements themselves.

Fred Rivera, executive vice president and general counsel for the Mariners, told the council Sept. 5 that the amended funding plan would likely be satisfactory for the club. “I do believe that the proposal that is now being considered, from a financial perspective, will allow us to get the [lease] deal done,” he said.

In a statement provided to Seattle Weekly after the vote, the ball club praised the amended plan: “We want to thank the County Executive and members of the County Council who worked out this compromise. If approved by the full Council, we believe we can work with the Public Facilities District to finalize a lease agreement that ensures Safeco Field continues to be a first-class ballpark, community asset and economic engine for our region.”

After county voters rejected a public financing plan to build Safeco Field back in 1995, the state Legislature and the King County Council approved a tax package that didn’t require a public vote. In the final arrangement, taxpayer funds covered over $300 million of the stadium’s $517 million total cost.

Kohl-Welles argued that her proposal was itself a compromise that both funds necessary stadium maintenance and invests a considerable amount in affordable housing.

“My proposal really is not an either-or proposal,” she said, going on to claim that the $25 million allocated for Safeco Field in her amendment would adequately help the Mariners pay for the necessary maintenance if they don’t invest in other upgrades to the stadium, such as more parking and a new brewpub.

“This money is not needed by the Mariners. Period,” Kohl-Welles said. “Why should we be putting taxpayers’ money into that? It doesn’t add up.”

She also noted during the meeting that the Mariners will only pay $1.5 million per year in rent under the new lease — and that the club doesn’t pay property taxes — as evidence that the lease arrangment is skewed to benefit the team.


In consideration of how we voice our opinions in the modern world, we’ve closed comments on our websites. We value the opinions of our readers and we encourage you to keep the conversation going.

Please feel free to share your story tips by emailing editor@bothell-reporter.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.bothell-reporter.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) We reserve the right to edit letters, but if you keep yours to 300 words or less, we won’t ask you to shorten it.

More in News

State Capitol Building in Olympia. File photo
Politicians get pay raises, state workers get furloughs

A citizens panel approved the hikes in 2019. Unable to rescind them, lawmakers look to donate their extra earnings.

Starting July 6, three road paving projects to prepare for

Two full road closures and night paving work is coming to Redmond Ridge at Novelty Hill Road, near Duvall, July 6 through August

Human remains in West Seattle identified

Bags of body parts were found in a suitcase along a West Seattle beach on June 19.

According to King County’s Mental Illness and Drug Dependency (MIDD) annual report, Seattle had the highest rate of people using services at 36 percent of the total, followed by 31 percent from South King County, 18 percent from the greater Eastside, and 7 percent from north county including Shoreline. Courtesy image
Drug courts, officer de-escalation programs impacted by MIDD cuts

The fund provides money for mental illness and drug dependency programs across King County.

Summer vehicle travel projected to decrease this year

Traffic this summer will likely be lighter across Washington state than previous… Continue reading

Governor Jay Inslee smiles and laughs Sept. 3, 2019, during a speech at the Lynnwood Link Extension groundbreaking in Lynnwood. A Thurston County judge ruled he exceeded his authority when he vetoed single sentences in the state transportation budget in 2019. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)
Judge invalidates Gov. Inslee’s veto in roads budget

Lawmakers said the governor crossed a constitutional line.

King County cases among younger adults drives increase in COVID-19 numbers

Over half of all new cases are among people ages 20-39

Kirkland man found guilty of promoting prostitution in Eastside sex trafficking ring

Authorities say suspect ran “successful enterprise” for greater half of a decade.

Public and private universities, colleges, technical schools, apprenticeship programs and similar schools and programs may resume general instruction, including in-person classes and lectures, starting Aug. 1. Pictured: The University of Washington-Bothell campus. File photo
Universities and colleges may reopen in fall, governor says

His order requires masks and physical distancing, among other measures, to help prevent infections.

Most Read