The team and the Public Facilities District that oversees Safeco Field agreed in May to a term sheet outlining a 25-year extension to the lease. The Mariners say the deal would be signed only if the King County Council approves a motel-hotel tax proposed to help fund capital projects at the ballpark.
The Mariners say their proposed long-term lease extension at Safeco Field is contingent upon King County approving $180 million in public funds to help with fixes at the ballpark.
The team and the Public Facilities District that oversees Safeco Field had agreed in May to an initial term sheet outlining a 25-year extension to the lease. But it has not been signed.
The same day, King County Executive Dow Constantine unveiled a plan to spend $180 million in motel-hotel taxes to help the Mariners complete capital projects at the 19-year-old ballpark.
The King County Council will begin weighing that plan at a committee hearing Monday.
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Fred Rivera, a Mariners executive vice president and the team’s legal counsel, said Wednesday that the lease deal would be signed only if the county approves the public funding for the ballpark.
The team’s lease expires at the end of this year. But that doesn’t mean the Mariners would leave if the public funding is rejected.
If the county rejects the funding plan, the team would sign a short-term extension of up to five years to ensure the team continues to play at Safeco and then go back to the drawing board to figure out a different long-term lease structure, Rivera said.
“We are not moving from Seattle,” Rivera said. “That’s not in our plans.”
The Seattle Weekly reported Wednesday that the lease was contingent on the county approving the funding.
All nine members of the King County Council are scheduled to meet to discuss the plan for the first time Monday morning. There likely will be at least one more hearing on the funding plan before a full vote by the council as early as September, right as the Mariners could be making a playoff push on the field.
A third-party study the Mariners helped commission said the team needs $385 million in capital projects over the next 25 years to keep the stadium in its current condition. That includes work on the retractable roof, elevators, escalators, HVAC and electrical systems. The public funding would cover $180 million of that cost, and the club would contribute $205 million.
Separately, the team is planning over the next quarter-century to pay for $180 million in various upgrades to modernize the stadium, and another $250 million for day-to-day maintenance and upkeep.
The proposed public funding source is the motel-hotel tax that is helping pay off debt at publicly financed CenturyLink Field, where the Seahawks and Sounders play their games, across the street from Safeco. That debt is set to be paid off in 2020.
State law requires that, starting in 2021, 75 percent of the funds from the motel-hotel tax be spent on housing and the arts, split evenly between the two categories. The remaining 25 percent – the part that would help fund the Safeco projects – is supposed to be earmarked for tourism promotion, according to Constantine’s office. He argues it’s money well spent considering Safeco is one of the region’s biggest tourist draws.
Three of the county’s nine council members, including Chair Joe McDermott, gave quotes that appeared supportive of the plan in a county statement in May. McDermott did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
But Councilman Dave Upthegrove, who opposes the funding request for the Mariners, has challenged the interpretation that the money must go toward tourism and has argued the funds could also be used for housing.
Upthegrove noted that the value of the Mariners has soared $1 billion in recent years (according to Forbes, the team is now worth $1.45 billion, up from $449 million in 2011).
“There is no reason they would walk away from a business enterprise that is generating so much wealth for them. The threat is nonsense,” Upthegrove said.
“We have a simple choice,” he continued. “We can invest this money in public needs, or we can use it to allow these business owners to make even more money.”
Asked why the Mariners need public financing, Rivera noted that the ballpark is a public facility and said the majority of the projects over the lease will be funded privately through the team. The team will also continue to pay rent, totaling about $55 million over 25 years under the lease terms.
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. The park cost $517 million and was paid for largely with public funds.