The debate over a new lease agreement with the Mariners baseball team heated up last week when King County councilmembers grilled members of the organization that oversees Safeco Field in response to demands from the team that the county pony up millions or watch them walk away.
At issue: A demand from the Mariners, not included in the lease terms approved by the Public Facilities District (PFD), that the county help fund stadium improvements and maintenance that members of the council believed were the responsibility of the team.
The disagreement has been percolating in the local press for months since King County Executive Dow Constantine released a proposal to earmark more than $180 million of a lodging tax over a period of 25 years for stadium improvements, a move opposed by housing advocates who believe the money could be better spent alleviating the homelessness crisis.
However, the team signaled to the PFD that it expected public funds to supplement the deal, said Gerry Johnson, an attorney with Pacifica Law Group. If the lease falls through, millions promised by the Mariners and garnered from taxes on tickets and other sources that go toward the maintenance and operation of the stadium will also be lost.
“The conundrum is that without a lease, none of those exist,” Johnson said. “The Mariners have made the request for county funding and informed us that their willingness to enter the lease that creates those obligations is contingent on funding from the council.”
Opponents point to a section in the terms sheet that says that the Mariners are responsible for the cost of all “maintenance, repairs, re-quipping and improvements” necessary to meet agreed upon standards and “to fulfill the Management Plan (the “CapEx Work”).”
That is to be paid out of the “CapEx” fund, which is fed by revenues from the stadium (ticket taxes, etc.) and money from the Mariners.
The same section of the sheet says that the club is responsible to complete the CapEx work even if the fund is depleted.
“If this money comes in, it relieves them of an obligation of which they would have more funds available for other parts of their operation or owner distributions or anything that they would want,” said Craig Kinzer, a member of the PFD, according to the Seattle Weekly.
The gap between estimated costs and expected revenues is approximately $25 million, which Councilmember Jeanne Kohl Welles has indicated that she might be willing to entertain. Kohl Welles was a sponsor of the original $180 million proposal, but removed her support.
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Ashley on Twitter @AshleyA_RC
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