The fight over the Seattle Mariners‘ lease is heating up, with team execs insisting they won’t sign a 25-year extension on their Safeco Field lease that expires this winter unless they get $180 million in county hotel tax money to use on maintenance and upgrades, and Seattle officials going, Wait, what? Let’s start with King County councilmember Dave Upthegrove, who says that now that the Seahawks‘ stadium is about to be paid off, the hotel tax money that funded that can be used for something else, such as housing:
“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.”
To which Mariners executive vice-president Fred Rivera responded:
“This [stadium] is owned by the county, and the question is how much should the county pay for its building?” Rivera told Seattle Weekly on July 20. “The discussion [between the Mariners and the PFD] was ‘What’s a fair amount for the club and for the PFD to contribute to make sure that those nuts-and-bolts items are appropriately taken care of over the next 25 years?’ and that’s what resulted in this financing plan.”
Rivera also said that, if the allocation isn’t made, that they “would have to go back to the table” with the PFD and “determine how the publicly owned stadium will be kept in a first-class condition.”
That’s an interesting pair of arguments, coming down to: Hey, it’s the public’s stadium, the public should pay to keep it in good shape but also You don’t wanna know what we’ll do if you don’t give us this money. On the former, while technically yes, Safeco Field is owned by the county, that was a bookkeeping dodge designed, as it is with most publicly owned stadiums, to get the team out of having to pay property taxes — the Mariners owners control all the stadium revenues, so it’s a “publicly owned stadium” solely on paper.
And on the latter, it’s not entirely clear what the M’s owners can do if their bluff is called — as Upthegrove notes, they’re profiting immensely from paying in Seattle, so moving to, I dunno, Portland would be cutting off their nose to spite their face. As I told Seattle Weekly:
DeMause points out that the Mariners aren’t exactly negotiating from a position of absolute strength given the organization’s historic roots to Seattle. “Yes, Seattle wants the Mariners to sign a lease extension. But at the same time the Mariners need to sign a lease extension, because where the hell else are they going to go?” he said. “It’s not like there are a whole lot of great markets outside of Seattle.”
In any event, Rivera says if the lease subsidy is rejected, the Mariners owner will sign a five-year lease extension, and won’t threaten to move: “There is no thought of the Mariners leaving Seattle. I want to be absolutely clear about that.” (Unless this was meant as a non-threat threat, which, maybe.)
Here’s an idea, then: Whichever public officials end up negotiating this lease, whether now or five years from now, how about instead of arguing about how much of a subsidy to give the team, ask the team owners why they can’t pay more rent than $2.2 million a year, or share some stadium revenues with the public? After all, if the Mariners are just tenants, rents in desirable neighborhoods do go up, and they’d be hard-pressed to find other digs with all the same amenities (48k rms, rtctbl rf). Two can play at lease hardball.