The whip count at the King County Council looks like 3-2 against the original public-funding plan for Safeco Field, with four council members who haven't indicated which direction they're leaning.
The Mariners suffered a surprising off-field setback Tuesday, as one of their strongest supporters for a plan to use about $180 million in public funds for fixes at Safeco Field dropped her support and said most of the money should be used for affordable housing instead.
King County Council member Jeanne Kohl-Welles, one of three co-sponsors of the bill to funnel public funds toward the stadium, abruptly announced that she was pulling her name from the measure. Kohl-Welles said she would introduce a competing proposal to use most of those funds on housing, and instead contribute $25 million in public funds toward Safeco Field.
It comes just a day after the first public hearing on the funding plan, in which Kohl-Welles appeared supportive of the stadium financing.
In a statement Tuesday, she called the ballpark funding – which could range from $177 to $190 million – “simply the wrong amount at the wrong time.”
“The bottom line is our region is experiencing a major housing crisis,” she said.
“We can strike the right balance and find a way to meet the Mariners’ stated basic maintenance needs while also acknowledging the immense, immediate need to address our housing crisis,” she continued.
That leaves two of nine council members on record in support of the original stadium funding plan – co-sponsors Joe McDermott and Pete von Reichbauer.
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Council members Dave Upthegrove and Rod Dembowski have been generally opposed. That puts the whip count at 3-2 against the Safeco funding, while four council members haven’t said what direction they’re leaning.
The council next meets on the issue at a committee Aug. 29, and a full vote by the council could happen in September.
The Mariners have said they need the money as part of a broader $800 million plan to do upgrades, fixes and maintenance at the stadium over the next quarter-century. The team, whose lease expires at the end of this year, has agreed to a tentative 25-year lease extension with the Public Facilities District that oversees the ballpark, but the deal is contingent on the county approving the public funds.
But the hotel-motel tax revenues that had been proposed for the ballpark are also eligible to be used on housing. Upthegrove and dozens of housing advocates who packed the council chambers Monday had argued that the affordable housing crisis was a more pressing issue and that the Mariners, whose majority owner is billionaire John Stanton, should fund the Safeco costs themselves.
Fred Rivera, the Mariners’ legal counsel and an executive vice president, noted the public funds would go toward only “the most critical capital improvements to a publicly-owned facility, like replacing plumbing, electrical and roof systems.” The Mariners, meanwhile, would fund maintenance and upgrades at the park.
“It’s disappointing that Councilmember Kohl-Welles would withdraw her support for a reasonable plan that fairly allocates responsibility for the publicly-owned ballpark,” Rivera said.
“We remain committed to working with all parties to find solutions that preserve Safeco Field as a vital publicly-owned asset and address our region’s homelessness crisis,” he added.
The team has said if the public funding is rejected, it would sign a short-term lease to stay at Safeco and go back to the drawing board to work on a different long-term lease.