King County Council passes $135M Safeco Field compromise
The amended version approved $135 million on Safeco Field — down from an earlier demand for $180 million — and will leave the rest of the money for affordable housing. None of the funds, collected from the state’s lodging tax, would go toward tourism directly.
The proposal passed with a 5-4 vote.
“We will do a lot of good with this money, we will still support tourism,” Councilmember Claudia Balducci said after the proposal had passed. “I just don’t want people in the public to take away that we’re taking away money that is supporting jobs, that is supporting people. It’s about future investment.”
In July, King County Executive Dow Constantine laid out a proposal that would allocate roughly $180 million in public funds from the remaining 25 percent of the lodging tax to upkeep Safeco and provide capital improvements over the next two decades.
The Mariners, predictably, disagreed. And Seattle Weekly reported that they will not sign a new lease at the end of 2018 unless the county gives them the $180 million from taxpayers over the next two decades that would help upkeep the stadium.
At the September 5 meeting, even the amendment’s sponsors, Councilmembers Claudia Balducci and Joe McDermott, expressed the sentiment that the agreement was a middle ground.
“This is a compromise, a balance. I don’t expect there are champions for it — it’s a compromise,” McDermott said at the time.
The compromise they ultimately reached was passed by a 5-4 vote out of committee, securing 50 percent of future revenue, or $661 million, for investments in affordable housing and homeless youth services. Under this deal, $135 million is being earmarked for the stadium.
This proposal marks a more than $165 million increase from the original proposal of $496 million. It also reduces the funding of Safeco Field maintenance by approximately $50 million and allows for a tourism promotion fund.
These funds would become available over the course of 23 years starting in 2021.
Other amendments that would have sent considerably less funding to Safeco failed in that meeting, as well as splitting the revenue from the naming rights with the Mariners, putting the Safeco Field funding plan to a vote in February.
At Monday’s meeting, a proposal by Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles to delay the vote by one week also failed, by a 5-4 vote.
The vote came after a slightly contentious meeting, where 13 amendments were considered, with several having the aim to drop the $135 million allocated to the Mariners.
Among them, Kohl-Welles made another push for an amendment which cut stadium spending by $109 million to shift into regional tourism promotion, and maintain a $165 million boost for housing earmarked in the proposed plan.
She noted that if the Public Facilities District wanted to have additional funds for maintenance on Safeco Field, the District could go to the public and ask for funds directly. In this case, it’s the Mariners themselves who are asking for upkeep money.
“This is a major corporation that pays below market rent, and we are providing them $135 million if this were to go through,” Kohl-Welles said. “And I think it’s going to feed into the cynicism of the public, the distrust of the public towards elected officials, politics, the wealthy, corporations.
“Voters look at ballots (for funding schools, and others) and think, ‘Why should we put money into this or that, when the council was able to put money into a corporation?’ It doesn’t add up.”
That amendment failed by another 5-4 vote, like other attempts to drop the Mariners allocation.
Still, rare moments of consensus were found: All nine councilmemebers approved an amendment that explicitly states money for tourism can fund an international market, with $8 million in funds available.