Members of the Metropolitan King County Council should approve a reasonable long term investment to help maintain Safeco Field, a publicly owned ballpark that is an important regional asset.
No one would recommend building a new house and then letting it fall into disrepair.
Yet this idea seems lost on those fighting a plan to spend about $8 million per year for improvements at Safeco Field, something County Executive Dow Constantine has proposed as part of a new lease agreement with the Seattle Mariners.
Members of the Metropolitan King County Council should stand firm and approve this reasonable long-term investment — about $180 million stretched over 23 years — for capital improvements at the publicly owned ballpark.
Given that taxpayers spent $372 million to build the venue in the first place, letting the 19-year-old facility deteriorate is not an option.
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Just like a responsible landlord must occasionally pay to install new plumbing or repair a roof, the county has a vested interest in helping maintain one of the region’s foremost tourist attractions.
The tax money at issue — a 2 percent tax on hotel and motel stays — has been used for years to help pay off debt associated with the Kingdome and CenturyLink Field, so spending a portion of it on stadium investments is far from unprecedented.
The Mariners would not be getting off without paying a substantial share. Of an estimated $385 million in capital improvements needed to keep the ballpark in its current condition over the next 25 years, the Mariners plan to cover $205 million of those costs.
These investments include necessary work on the ballpark’s elevators, escalators, electrical systems and retractable roof.
In addition, the team plans to pay for another $180 million in upgrades to the stadium, as well as $250 million more for day-to-day maintenance and upkeep. Amenities like a revamped restaurant or new brewpub would not be paid for using taxpayer dollars but would be among the upgrades picked up by the Mariners.
This pegs the Mariners’ total planned investment at $635 million over the next 25 years, compared to the $180 million that would be contributed by the county during the same period.
Opponents of paying for the ballpark would prefer that King County direct this $8 million per year in hotel-motel tax revenue toward affordable housing.
But the county already plans to start using a substantial portion of the future lodging-tax money for that purpose. Starting in 2021, after the last bonds for CenturyLink Field are paid off, 37.5 percent of the lodging-tax revenue must be spent on housing and programs to fight homelessness. All told, this existing division of funds is projected to generate about $559 million for housing between 2021 and 2045.
Another 37.5 percent of the lodging-tax revenue must go toward arts and cultural programs, leaving only the remaining 25 percent available for stadium upgrades or other ways of promoting tourism.
On that front, Safeco Field delivers plenty of benefits for King County and the region, according to an analysis prepared for the public facility district that runs the ballpark. The analysis found that statewide, Safeco and the Mariners generate $180 million per year in economic activity that supports $128 million in wages and 3,300 jobs.
In King County alone, the facility is expected to generate $2.1 billion in economic output and support $1.8 billion in wages in the next 20 years.
Members of the Metropolitan King County Council should recognize these benefits and approve these capital investments at Safeco Field, which will help ensure the ballpark remains a vibrant regional asset well into the future.