On Jan. 1, the last of $300 million in bonds issued in 1999 to build what we today call Lumen Field and Event Center and retire the remaining Kingdome debt was paid off. This milestone was reached just days after the Seahawks secured their ninth NFC West Division championship at Lumen Field.
In 1997, Washington voters narrowly agreed to public-private funding of a new stadium. In retrospect, that was a huge win. It triggered Paul G. Allen’s purchase of the Seahawks, saved NFL football in Seattle, enabled the arrival of MLS soccer and created an enduring public-private partnership that continues to deliver benefits beyond professional sports.
But things could have turned out differently.
When Allen tentatively agreed to purchase the Seahawks, it was on the condition that the public partner with him to finance a new, open air, 72,000-seat stadium. That was far from a sure bet. At the time, the Seahawks had been mediocre on the field and the Kingdome, their home stadium, had outstanding debt and needed significant repairs and improvements.
The idea of publicly financing another professional “sports palace” concerned many legislators. As they considered the legislation, they demanded funding for youth athletic facilities and education, community mitigation, affordable seats, women- and minority-owned business enterprise participation, a public lottery suite, promotion of a state lottery program and prevailing wages for workers, as well as paying off the remaining Kingdome debt.
Allen accepted all of those conditions, persuading legislators to narrowly approve the Stadium Act. Referendum 48 then went before the voters: The Seahawks were saved, the Sounders were born, and Washington state residents have enjoyed two decades of professional sports — and many other public benefits.
The referendum created the Washington State Public Stadium Authority (PSA), which built the stadium and event center, and continues to oversee the public’s investment. Lumen Field went on to become home of the Super Bowl champion Seahawks and two-time MLS Cup champion Seattle Sounders FC. Pre-pandemic, the facilities hosted an average of 2.5 million visitors annually for sports, concerts and consumer shows.
Just as importantly, the public-private partnership between Allen and the PSA went far beyond hosting sports and events. For example, the Stadium Act directed that when the bonds are finally retired, the remaining balance in the bond account will fund grants to acquire, construct, improve and maintain youth-athletic facilities. That balance — nearly $40 million — complements the initial $10 million contributed by Allen upon passage of Referendum 48.
The Stadium Act also requires Allen’s First & Goal to contribute 20% of net profits from events at Lumen Field Event Center to the Washington State common school fund, totaling more than $5 million to date. And it required a $10 million contribution toward neighborhood mitigation. The Community Partnership Forum, established in 1997, stewards partnerships with neighborhood businesses and residents, and helps strengthen the relationship between the stadium and its neighbors.
First & Goal pays prevailing wages on all construction contracts, actively seeks women- and minority-owned business participation in construction and operations and conducts a community concession program at the stadium. The Seahawks offer 10% of available seats to each home game/match at the average lowest ticket price available in the NFL and offers fan access to a suite via a lottery. The Sounders offer a similar benefit.
Together, First & Goal, the teams, and the PSA have fulfilled the public benefit opportunities proposed during the referendum campaign. And, if the World Cup comes to Seattle in 2026, a personal campaign commitment we made to the voters will be fulfilled. Looking back, Washington voters have many reasons to be proud of the partnership they approved in 1997.