Investing a relatively minute share of county revenues to help maintain a first-class public facility is perfectly reasonable given the direct benefits and jobs created.
A reasonable compromise to help fund maintenance of Safeco Field, a premier public facility and regional tourism attraction, should be finalized by the Metropolitan King County Council without further ado.
The five council members who support the deal — Joe McDermott, Reagan Dunn, Kathy Lambert, Claudia Balducci and Pete von Reichbauer — and County Executive Dow Constantine found a clever way to appease competing demands for lodging-tax proceeds without scuttling a new, long-term Mariners lease.
“I guarantee not one of us got what we wanted going into the discussion, but we all got a package that works for King County,” von Reichbauer said.
Under the compromise reached Wednesday, the share of lodging-tax revenue spent on housing projects will grow from a lion’s share to an elephant’s share.
County lodging taxes are expected to generate at least $1.3 billion over 25 years, of which at least $660 million will go to housing, plus services for homeless youth. That’s up from $495 million in Constantine’s original proposal.
Another $495 million will go to arts and cultural programs.
The public-facilities district overseeing the ballpark will receive $135 million, or about $5 million a year, which is just 7.25 percent of the lodging taxes. That’s down from $180 million, or about $7 million a year, under an initial plan. For context, annual maintenance costs at the ballpark will average around $15 million through 2041, mostly covered by the Mariners.
Other tourism programs are receiving less under the revised deal. But it’s structured so that tourism programs will receive the largest share of any tax proceeds above the current forecast. Proceeds are likely to be higher, especially considering the new hotel-rooms and convention-center expansion now under construction in Seattle.
Investing a relatively minute share of county revenues to help maintain a first-class public facility like Safeco Field is perfectly reasonable.
Yes, the economic benefit of sports facilities is open to debate. But direct benefits of the Mariners’ presence include 700 jobs, $35 million in wages and $71 million in economic activity. More than 1.5 million ballpark visitors a year come from outside the county, which by itself justifies using lodging taxes earmarked for tourism on the facility.
The council is expected to finalize this hard-fought compromise on Sept. 17.
Then, it should discuss ways to ensure that its politicking doesn’t further damage the business climate.
If the goal is to create opportunity and support those struggling to get by, the council should be encouraging, not demonizing, private ventures like the Mariners that offer to make long-term, job-creating investments in the community.