Mariners owners seek $180 million in publicly funded upgrades as part of lease renewal

When the Seattle Mariners owners announced on Wednesday that they’d agreed to a 25-year lease extension on Safeco Field without demanding any new public subsidies, I thought, “That’s nice, I’ll address it in the Friday roundup.” And here it is Friday, but now this is getting its own item, because it turns out the Mariners are actually looking for public money for stadium upgrades — $180 million of it, in fact:

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,” [King County councilmember Dave] 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.”

There are a lot of moving parts to this lease deal — the Mariners owners would also put in $120 million toward future upgrades, which are estimated at $545 million over the next 30 years for some reason even though the stadium only cost $517 million to build in the first place, and they would also kick in $175 million in ticket and parking taxes collected by the team, the latter of which supercedes parking taxes the city would normally get to charge (and collect). And the Seattle Times reports that the lease deal “is not contingent upon the hotel-motel tax revenue.” So it’s probably a bit overly definitive to write “Mariners owners seek $180 million in public upgrades as part of lease renewal” … enh, it’s Friday, if you can’t oversimplify headlines on a Friday, when can you do it? If things are clearer after the weekend, look for an update then.

Kingdome debt finally due to be paid off this year, 15 years after Kingdome ceased to exist

If you like stadium schadenfreude, you’ll love this: Seattle is about to pay off the last of its debt on the Kingdome, 15 years after the building was imploded:

Back in 1994, tiles fell from building’s roof, prompting an emergency closure and multimillion dollar fix. It was financed on a 20-year debt payment structure and was set to expire at the end of 2015.

King County Budget Director Dwight Dively confirmed Wednesday the county has collected enough money through hotel and motel taxes to pay off the debt nine months early.

If you’re asking yourself, Wait, how can paying off a stadium that’s been gone a decade and a half be “nine months early”?, well, that’s how bonds work: It’s buy now, pay later, and intentionally so. Everyone knew in 1994, or if not then shortly thereafter, that the Kingdome probably wasn’t going to be around at the end of the debt payments, but it was decided that rather than pay for the whole repair cost in one lump sum, it would make more sense to pay it off over time, so that what King County did.

Neither system is any worse, really, any more than taking out a mortgage to buy a home is any better or worse than paying cash, which is why I’ve previously disparaged “taxpayers are still paying off that pile of rubble!” stories as missing the point. The problem isn’t when the payments are made, but how many of them: Seattle taxpayers have now paid for building the Kingdome ($67 million), repairing the Kingdome ($51 million), demolishing the Kingdome ($10 million), and most of building Safeco Field (about $400 million). That’s a sizable slab of dough, regardless of which structures were still standing when the payments were made.

Why your national pastime sucks

I came to Deadspin’s latest installment of its excellent “Why Your Stadium Sucks” series because it mentions our book (remember the book? if you like the website, you’ll love the book), but stayed for the excellent reader comment on his experience at the Seattle Mariners‘ Safeco Field, which concludes:

These journeys really impressed upon me that professional sports in the US really is no longer about anything going on on the field. It’s really just a corporate beer garden designed as an alternative to some big budget action film, or theme park or shopping mall or some sort of mindless “family” entertainment in which the goal is to placate your offspring with as much food as they can ingest and to acquire some more cheap, shiny stuff from China that no one really needs.

For my own take on Safeco, see this oldie but goodie.