Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln's refusal to be a constructive participant in discussions about the arena shows his disconnect with Seattle sports fans.
Seeing as how the Mariners have achieved consistency — 11 consecutive years without a postseason appearance — it makes sense that they want to prove more versatile than just a lousy baseball franchise. They’re so good at being bad that they’re able to commit to a new responsibility with the same conviction they had in giving Chone Figgins $36 million.
Their new title: environmental review watchdog.
Also known as arena troll.
You can call them the selfish neighbor, the ultimate hypocrite and the public-relations train wreck, too. The Mariners have earned more aliases than a fugitive in their stubborn, futile attempt to block Chris Hansen’s plan to build a basketball and hockey arena next door to Safeco Field.
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It’s not worth it. It’s not the best way to ensure their concerns are alleviated and their business interests are satisfied. But Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln refuses to stand down, even though the franchise has shiners on both eyes from public ire that could’ve been avoided.
And don’t expect him to change the Mariners’ stance, which has been expressed clumsily from the beginning. Their latest misstep was the decision last week to join maritime-business leaders and sign a letter to the Seattle City Council that strongly accuses the revised arena deal, negotiated by Hansen and the council, of trying to cut corners on a mandatory state environmental review.
It’s a weak and unnecessary form of opposition. Resolution requires a simple change in the language of the Memorandum of Understanding, and that can be requested using a different tone. But once again, arena opponents in the Sodo neighborhood couldn’t resist acting as if they lord over the universe.
And who is seen, even if it’s unfair, as the face of this arrogance? The Mariners, the only group involved that risks alienating sports fans.
Lincoln doesn’t get that, or he doesn’t care. If the latter is true, the Mariners are more hopeless than even their critics believe.
For certain, the Mariners’ concerns are valid, but their methods are foolish. If we’ve learned anything from the past seven months of arena debate, it’s that open dialogue and pragmatic negotiation can be shrewd tactics. Hansen has reached a tentative agreement to build an arena because his actions show he’s genuine in his desire to broker a fair deal. He has been earnest in wanting to be a good Sodo neighbor, and if you talk to him with a collaborative spirit, he’s creative in proposing mutually beneficial solutions.
Hansen has had good dialogue with the Seahawks, Sounders FC and the Storm. In the Storm’s case, that has already resulted in Hansen inserting an extra $7 million in his plan to assist in figuring out what to do with KeyArena. But the chances of Lincoln having a conversation that doesn’t include saying “no” repeatedly are about as likely as Justin Smoak breaking Pete Rose’s hits record.
On this issue, the Mariners could only be more unpopular if Clay Bennett owned them.
Then again, at least Bennett wouldn’t be an absentee owner.
It’s fair to wonder whether the Mariners would be more sensitive if majority owner Hiroshi Yamauchi was an engaged owner living in Seattle who had to listen to local sports fans. Instead, the franchise is left with another disaster stemming from a lack of accountable leadership.
Let’s be clear: The problem isn’t that the Mariners are skeptical. They should be concerned about their fans’ ability to get to and from games if Sodo becomes more congested. They should want to make sure that the environmental review makes clear the impact a new arena would have on traffic and what Hansen should be required to do about it.
The issue isn’t their argument. It’s the tone of their argument and their lack of interest in working to find a remedy. In the revised deal, Hansen will put $40 million into a transportation fund to do his part to solve infrastructure problems. City Councilmember Tim Burgess said last week that the Port of Seattle, Mariners, Seahawks and Sounders FC would all be asked to contribute to the fund in the future, and the city will seek state and federal matching grants, too.
Even if Burgess dressed like a member of the Mariners’ dancing grounds crew and knocked on Lincoln’s door on Halloween to ask the favor, the Mariners’ answer figures to be a grumbling “no.”
Is this an appropriate way for a franchise with a 73 percent publicly funded stadium to act?
As much as the Mariners still market their miracle 1995 season, Lincoln has forgotten where this franchise came from. Seventeen years ago, they lost a stadium initiative vote, and after threatening to sell the team, they forced a special legislative session to get Safeco Field built. If that hadn’t happened, the Mariners might be where the Sonics are — elsewhere.
Now, in this important fight to get the NBA to return and please sports fans across the region, Lincoln won’t even explore the possibility with Hansen. Even worse, from the Mariners’ initial letter of opposition, to working with Save Our Sodo and Pacific Public Affairs on an anti-arena campaign, to paying for an anti-arena poll, they’re like the new country club member who now turns a nose up at others trying to gain admittance. It takes an incredible amount of nerve to take on that much hypocrisy.
Stand down, Howard Lincoln. It’s not worth it.
This franchise should stop acting too good to cooperate with Hansen. And it should be above this lame, ineffective, embarrassing arena trolling.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org