Mariners seeking $180m in public money to buy $501 toasters, less frumpy luxury suites

I was busy yesterday finishing up the transcription of my Nick Licata interview, but I don’t want to let this weekend’s actual news out of Seattle pass unnoticed, which is that Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat went through the list of “necessary improvements” that the Mariners are demanding taxpayers pay $180 million toward, and found this:

By way of example, one of them is a four-slice toaster for the M’s clubhouse that the consultant priced out at … $501.

It’s just one of thousands of items listed in the report. It’s obviously minor, compared to, say, the $24 million to fix the mammoth retractable roof. But it leapt out because $501 seems a mighty goosed-up price for a toaster.

The report is filled with eyebrow-raising prices. The total cost of new furniture for the park’s 60 luxury suites — also on the must-have fixes list — is $3 million. That works out to 50-grand worth of furniture for each suite. The added parking in the garage pencils out to nearly $100,000 per stall.

Here’s the report itself if you want to look through it. Aome of the items that jumped out to me were: replacing all the televisions every eight years, replacing all the ad signage inside and outside the stadium (ad signage whose revenue goes entirely to the Mariners owners, I believe), redoing the luxury seating so it’s no longer “dated,” adding a brewpub and and upper deck bar, and a whole lot of other things with alarmingly specific projected costs (repairs to the retractable roof, for instance, would cost $10,797,024 in 2026 but only $1,675,269 in 2027).

In other words, it looks like the consultants put together a wish list of things either other newer stadiums have — they say they visited San Francisco, Denver, Washington, and Pittsburgh “as a resource for developing the matrix” — or the Mariners owners had a particular jones for, and said right, that’s what’s needed. Which is an awfully funny definition of “need,” but then, the consultants here are B&D Venues and Populous, who are in the business of selling new stadiums and stadium upgrades to local governments. Hot tip for King County legislators: When your auto mechanic tells you you need $180 million in work on your car, at the very least get a second opinion.

5 comments on “Mariners seeking $180m in public money to buy $501 toasters, less frumpy luxury suites

  1. “repairs to the retractable roof, for instance, would cost $10,797,024 in 2026 but only $1,675,269 in 2027”

    Construction projects often last multiple years and costs are spread across them.

    • Sure — I just found the specificity of the numbers slightly weird: Are you really sure it won’t cost $10,797,025?

      I’m sure they did this based on averaging what other teams spent or something, but still it all comes off as hoping that precise estimates look less pulled out of someone’s ass than rounded-off ones.

  2. The specific dollar figures quoted might seem a little contrived, but it’s not that unusual in long range projections or budgets to end up with numbers just this detailed.

    How? Well, you start with the assumed (or perhaps quoted/ and hopefully at least professionally estimated) cost of doing a certain type of repair “today”. Then you add average annual cost increases to both labour and materials for doing that type of work until the year you have scheduled the repair. So a $6.5m estimated repair today can easily become an $8,304,325.20 repair in 9 years. In fact, you can make it a $10,962,358.84 repair just by using slightly different escalators for CoI, inflation or materials alone.

    Should they just round those numbers off? Sure, probably. But on a $180m project, those rounding errors can add up to significant unfunded obligations (unless, of course, the overruns are someone else’s problem…)

    The tremendous upside of this sort of budgeting for distant future projects is that if the $8.3m repair scheduled for 9 years from now ends up only costing $7.3m, you have $1m of someone else’s money you can use for something else…. it never gets ‘given back’. Maybe you didn’t realize the roof actually needed a built in pipe organ until you discovered there was going to be enough money in the budget to pay for it.

    Of course none of this means that they didn’t just pick these numbers out of their backsides…