The Seahawks have told the Huskies they can play next year's football games at Qwest Field. And some lawmakers and boosters are pushing for King County — rather than the state — to decide whether to spend $150 million of taxpayer money on renovating Husky Stadium.
The Seahawks have told the Huskies they can play their football games at Qwest Field in 2010.
And some lawmakers and boosters are pushing for King County — rather than the state — to decide whether to spend $150 million of taxpayer money on renovating Husky Stadium.
With state legislators returning to Olympia today, those are the latest developments on the University of Washington’s bid to overhaul its aging stadium. But during a session in which lawmakers will tackle unprecedented budget challenges, the University of Washington faces a tough sell.
UW Athletic Director Scott Woodward said he met recently with Seahawks officials, including Chief Executive Tod Leiweke, and had secured a “verbal agreement” for the Huskies to play at Qwest Field in 2010.
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The renovation of Husky Stadium could begin immediately after the last game of the upcoming season, Woodward said, and would take about 20 months. That would allow the team to move back into a revamped Husky Stadium in time for the 2011 season.
“Is this a viable option? The answer’s yes,” said Seahawks spokesman Dave Pearson, adding there has not yet been any formal discussions or agreement.
Pearson said the Seahawks — who played at Husky Stadium during the construction of Qwest Field in 2000 and 2001 — have a “very good relationship” with the Huskies and that it would pose no problem to play two games over a single weekend.
The UW is slated for six home games in 2010, including nonconference games against Nebraska and Syracuse and Pac-10 games against Arizona State, Oregon State, Stanford and UCLA. Qwest Field has an official capacity of 67,000, compared with 72,500 at Husky Stadium.
“We’ll make it work and we think the fans would be happy [to make the shift] for just one season,” Woodward said.
Meanwhile, the idea of handing the stadium-funding decision to King County revolves around the proposed use of county-specific taxes, such as a hotel-motel tax, to pay for the renovation.
“It seems to me that local decisions should be made locally,” said state Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, who co-chairs a legislative committee looking into funding proposals.
“There’s a lot of attraction to the idea that these taxes are generated in King County … and that if they’re generated there, you should decide what to do with them,” said Marty Brown, the governor’s legislative director and a member of Hunter’s committee.
Brown said he’s been hearing more support for the idea in recent weeks.
State lawmakers would still need to take action to hand over authority to the county.
“We would be delighted with that result,” said Ron Crockett, a UW booster pushing the stadium proposal.
But some Washington State University alumni are opposed to the UW getting any tax money for the stadium, arguing it’s a poor use of public funds during a budget crisis.
Hunter said one concern is WSU could raise only a fraction of the money the UW could, were WSU to benefit from a hotel-motel tax in Whitman County. He said that’s something lawmakers need to address.
In the meantime, the UW has started lobbying Metropolitan King County Council members in anticipation of the county becoming the decision-maker. The UW appears to have found at least one advocate in County Councilmember Dow Constantine.
“I think that this public stadium, for our public university, is certainly a worthy project,” Constantine said. “I don’t know where any of my colleagues would come down on this. But we have a significant public resource that is reaching the end of its useful life.”
Under the UW’s proposal, the university would pay half the $300 million renovation costs through its own fundraising. Woodward said those efforts, which would start as soon as a decision is made on public funding, could include selling stadium naming rights.