King County councilmember Dave Upthegrove is opposed to using a hotel-motel tax to fund roughly $180 million in Safeco Field upkeep by the Mariners. He says that money would be better used on tackling the region's homelessness and affordable housing issues.
King County councilmember Dave Upthegrove spoke out Thursday against a proposal to provide roughly $180 million in public funding to spend on upgrades at Safeco Field, where the Mariners play their games.
The proposal announced Wednesday by King County Council Executive Dow Constantine would come from a “hotel-motel” lodging tax that previously helped pay for construction of the Kingdome. It currently is paying off debt for the construction of CenturyLink Field, where the Seahawks and Sounders play their games. The CenturyLink Field debt is scheduled to be paid off by 2020.
Constantine wants 12 percent of that tax’s revenue given to the Public Facilities District (PFD) boards that manage both Safeco Field and the ShoWare Center in Kent, something Upthegrove says is ridiculous given more pressing priorities within the region.
“We all love the Mariners and they’re a part of our life but we have to remember this is a private, for profit business,” Upthegrove, who chairs the council’s budget committee, said in an interview Thursday. “And a large one. It’s a billion-dollar company that can afford to and can and should pay their own expenses. Because if they don’t then we end up using public funds that need to go to other more pressing priorities.”
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Internal estimates by King County staffers are that the hotel-motel tax would generate between $177 million and $190 million for Safeco Field through 2043. It would generate about $2.2 million for the ShoWare Center through its lease expiration in 2029.
A vote on approving the measure is expected this summer.
Upthegrove said his constituents tell him daily about the expense associated with living in this region and how they are working two jobs, can’t pay rent or afford a new home. Given that, he says it makes no sense to be subsidizing a baseball team that has already said they’ll be staying regardless of whether the hotel-motel tax revenue is secured.
“We see more and more people living in the streets,” he said. “And we are foregoing these public resources to address housing and affordability in the region in order to provide the funding to offset the costs of one large business. That doesn’t feel right to me.”
The Mariners on Wednesday announced a new 25-year lease agreement with the PFD that will keep the team at Safeco Field at least through 2043 with a pair of three-year options beyond that. The team’s current lease was set to expire at the end of this season, and the new pact is not contingent upon the hotel-motel tax revenue.
The seven-member Safeco Field PFD, appointed by both the county and state governor, was created in 1995 to oversee construction of the $517 million ballpark on behalf of taxpayers that financed the majority of it. The Mariners say they’ve invested more than $350 million in ballpark maintenance, operation and basic repair costs over the first 19 years of its existence.
A joint study paid for by the PFD and the Mariners from the architectural firm Populous estimates another $385 million in basic ballpark infrastructure plus an additional $160 million beyond that for more specialized “first class” upgrades will be needed over the life of the new lease.
The team will pay $250 million in basic maintenance over the life of the lease. It also will contribute $120 million to a capital expenditure fund for bigger ballpark improvements.
“We want this ballpark to be our home for the next 100 years,” Mariners chairman and managing partner John Stanton said in a release. “Safeco Field should be to Seattle and the Mariners what Wrigley Field is to Chicago and the Cubs and Fenway Park is to Boston and the Red Sox.”
About $175 million in admissions and parking taxes collected by the team will also be diverted into the capital expenditures fund. The team will also pay $1.5 million in cost indexed rent totaling $55 million over the life of the lease – at least $10 million of which will be used on Safeco Field improvements.
Upthegrove said the proposal introduced by Constantine’s office Wednesday incorrectly stated that 25 percent of the hotel-motel tax must be spent on tourism.
He said state law requires that at least 37.5 percent of the tax revenue generated must be spent on housing, 37.5 percent on arts and culture and the remainder on tourism. But he added the county could choose to spend the tax revenues on more than the minimum amount for housing that it currently does and less on the tourism – and ballpark – aspect.
“If you take any one funding proposal as a one-off, everything looks good,” he said. “I mean, we all love the Mariners, great. But if you back up and look at it as ‘Here’s how much we have in terms of public money, what are our values and priorities as a region?’ Then, I don’t think that we would reach the same conclusion. Because there is a trade-off…that funding could go to other purposes.”